MANILA - Government troops have killed three suspected members of the pro-Islamic State Maute group, the army said on Friday, including a fighter broken out of jail in a southern city taken over by militants last year.
The three men were killed in a firefight on Thursday in the town of Pantar, just outside Marawi, the city half-destroyed by a five-month conflict last year that was the Philippine military's biggest and longest battle since World War Two.
Though the armed forces ultimately prevailed, the presence of some Maute rebels in the area indicates that extremists have not abandoned efforts to gain a foothold in the southern Philippines and establish an East Asian caliphate.
Since the Marawi defeat, military officials and security experts say, Islamic State loyalists have been recruiting fighters, including boys and hardened mercenaries, for fresh attacks in the region.
Major Ronald Suscano, an army spokesman, said the three men killed on Thursday had resisted arrest when security forces raided their lair. Four assault rifles, a grenade launcher and stolen police firearms and ammunition were recovered.
The security forces were trying to arrest Omar Daiser, who was among the inmates freed on May 23 last year when Maute group gunmen stormed the Marawi City Jail, looted a police armory and seized control of other parts of the city.
Lt. Col. Eliezer Valdez said they are still looking for 10 more suspected militants who could still be in the area.
The military received reports about the presence of armed men.
"Hindi sila kilala ng mga residente," said Valdez, commander of the 4th Mechanized Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army.
(The locals don't recognize them.)
Meanwhile, Senior Insp. Mohammad Doro, Pantar town police chief, refuted speculations that Daiser's companions were carpenters.
"We spoke with a carpenter who was working at the area and he doesn't recognize them," he said.
The two men who were killed during Thursday's operations remain unidentified. - with report from Roxanne Arevalo, ABS-CBN News