Five Muslim rebels and a soldier were killed during a weekend ground and air assault by Philippines security forces on militants supportive of the Islamic State group in a restive southern region, the military said today. The Philippine army pounded some 50 militants with artillery in a five-hour attack on the island of Mindanao Saturday, according to regional military spokesman Captain Arvin Encinas. One soldier and at least five members of the rebel Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) were killed in the clash, he said, adding that while small and fragmented the militant group was a threat in the region. "They have enough people to conduct atrocities, and they are actively recruiting," he said. The Muslim minority of the mainly Catholic Philippines considers Mindanao as its homeland.
Decades of armed rebellion in the region has claimed more than 100,000 lives by official estimates. Last year another group pledging allegiance to IS occupied the Mindanao city of Marawi and fought a bloody conflict with US-backed Philippine government forces for five months, leaving more than 1,100 people dead. In response to that violence, President Rodrigo Duterte put Mindanao under until the end of 2018. But sporadic fighting has continued as a network of rebel groups operating on the island splinters, even after the main militant organisation the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) engaged in peace talks.