MANILA -- An air strike in the southern province of Lanao del Sur that displaced thousands was aimed at the reported new emir of the Islamic State in Southeast Asia, Abu Dar, a military official said Monday.
Authorities have tagged Abu Dar as one of the leaders of a 5-month long siege by the ISIS-inspired Maute group in Marawi City last year. The fighting left much of the city in ruins and led to the declaration of martial law in the entire Mindanao.
Authorities first monitored Abu Dar's presence in Tubaran town after he allegedly masterminded the killing of a candidate in last May's barangay elections, said Col. Romeo Brawner, deputy commander of Joint Task Group Ranao.
Abu Dar is believed to be hiding in the hinterlands of Sitio Giarong, prompting the air strike on Sunday.
"Nagkaroon po tayo ng airstrike kahapon at tinamaan natin ang grupo nila. Sa ngayon, tinutugis pa rin natin," he told radio DZMM.
(We conducted an airstrike yesterday and hit their group. We are still pursuing them.)
The Maute Group only has a few remaining fighters, but has stepped up its recruitment efforts, enticing the youth with their loot from Marawi and funding from Abu Sayyaf bandits and their foreign allies, said Brawner.
There were no immediate reports of casualties from the fighting, which forced some 700 families to evacuation centers, said Zia Alonto Adiong, spokesperson of the Lanao del Sur Crisis Management Committee.
Maute gunmen previously used Tubaran, home to 50,000, as a training ground. They used family connections in the town to move around and gain support from the ground, Adiong told ANC.
"We learned a hard lesson from the Marawi experience... We should not underestimate the capability or the potential threat this group may pose against the safety of our civilians, especially even outside of Lanao Del Sur," he said.