Government forces have begun launching a military offensive against various terror groups in Butig municipality, Lanao del Sur.
Marine Colonel Edgard Arevalo, chief of the AFP's public affairs office, said the military’s Western Mindanao Command had another “major breakthrough” in its intensified campaign against terror groups Abu Sayyaf and Maute, as well as foreign terror factions in the area.
The military on Thursday night launched a surgical air strike against terror groups. Two new FA-50 lead-in jets dropped bombs in Butig, which was followed by an airplane and an attack helicopter.
The operation was launched after the military received information that Abu Sayyaf senior leader Isnilon Hapilon is in Butig and is now the recognized “emir,” or leader, of the Islamic State group in the Philippines.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Thursday confirmed that the Islamic State now has direct contact to Hapilon for a caliphate in the country.
“Hapilon Isnilon, he moved to Central Mindanao allegedly on the behest of the ISIS people in the Middle East to find out if 'yung Central Mindanao is more conducive to the establishment of an organization because, according to the report, Basilan and Jolo are too small. Madali silang maipit doon, so they are looking for a bigger area,” Lorenzana said in a press briefing Thursday.
“Hijrah” or “Wilayat” is the term used to call the migration of the ISIS group to the center of what they will form as the Islamic State. This is what Hapilon is believed to be doing in Butig.
The Butig government has been monitoring the entry of several armed men from different towns.
“More than 70 heavily armed men ang pumasok galing sa island provinces . . . Ang info, speaking Yakan and Tausug. Nagtutugma lahat ng info ng LGU, pulis, military. Ito na nga ang grupo ni Hapilon,” Butig Mayor Jimmy Pansar said.
Hapilon is reportedly joined by the Maute group, Anzar Kilafa Philippines and members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.
The Maute group pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and raised a black flag in Butig when they recaptured the town last year.
In a statement, the AFP said the terror groups are “reported to have sustained a major casualty, with a number of them dead or seriously wounded,” after the bomb attack that landed the identified locations of the terror groups.
Troops are now searching the area to see whether they hit Hapilon or he managed to escape.
--reports from Chiara Zambrano, ABS-CBN News