MANILA - Suspected elements of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters have reportedly stormed a school in the town of Pigcawayan in North Cotabato early Wednesday.
Inspector Realan Emamon, chief of the Pigcawayan police, said they received reports about the unidentified number of armed men at around 5:45 a.m.
Emamon said military troops confirmed the presence of the gunmen in the area. Gunshots were also heard in Barangay Malagakit.
The police official said they have received reports of residents fleeing to the town's Poblacion area due to the ongoing firefight in the village.
They are also confirming reports if there are people trapped in the school where the alleged BIFF members attacked.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier said 40 militants from the BIFF and the Ansar Al-Khilafah Philippines have joined forces with Maute terrorists locked in battle with government troops in Marawi City.
Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera, spokesperson of the Joint Task Force Marawi, earlier said many of the outsiders came to Marawi using the cover of an Islamic prayer festival in the city last month.
The seizing of the city by Maute and its allies on the island of Mindanao is the biggest warning yet that the Islamic State is building a base in Southeast Asia and bringing the brutal tactics seen in Iraq and Syria in recent years to the region.
Defense and other government officials from within the region told Reuters evidence is mounting that this was a sophisticated plot to bring forces from different groups who support the Islamic State together to take control of Marawi.
The presence of foreigners - intelligence sources say the fighters have included militants from as far away as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Chechnya and Morocco - alongside locals in Marawi, has particularly alarmed security officials. With Reuters