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5 BIFF bandits killed in NCotabato clashes

About 200 families have evacuated and found themselves dislocated as firefights between Islamic State-inspired bandits from Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and Philippine Army troops resumed in Carmen, North Cotabato.

Local officials on Friday confirmed that affected residents of Martesan and Misalan in Barangay Tonganon were forced to evacuate for fear of a rampage by the group of BIFF commander Esmael Abdulmalik, alias Abu Toraife.

According to the military, Abu Toraife lost five of his followers in the bloody encounters with the Army troops.

Three soldiers from the Army's 34th Infantry Battalion (IB) and a local member of the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu) were wounded in the initial gunfight that erupted before dawn on Tuesday.

Among the wounded Army troops were Staff Sgt. Wenceslao Nacional, Cpl. Gerry Culaban, Privates First Class Ignacio Cinco and Joel Looc and a militiaman identified only as Lacuesta. They sustained bullet wounds in the body.

The military said elders from the Moro community reported to them that five followers of Abdulmalik - Ganding Mutalib, Raguiab Tahir, Monsi Kadir, Saliman Guinaid and Kumay Sangutin - were killed in the gunfights with troops from the 34th IB and 7th IB.

Both units are under the Army's 602nd Brigade based near Carmen in the 3rd District of North Cotabato.

Three other bandits, identified only as Oting, Samier and Mustapha, were also injured from 40 millimeter grenade projectiles fired by soldiers.

Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, Jr. chief of the Western Mindanao Command, said units of the Army's 602nd Brigade are anticipating possible retaliations by Abdulmalik's group.

The brigade has jurisdiction over Carmen and nearby towns in North Cotabato.

Brig. Gen. Nolly Samarita of the 602nd Brigade said a preemptive strike against the terrorists was launched after villagers and commanders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front sighted them in Barangay Tonganon, apparently preparing to attack the community there.

Abu Toraife is the leader of one of three factions in the outlawed BIFF, which uses the Islamic State flag as revolutionary banner.

People in Maguindanao who have known Abdulmalik, a Muslim religious leader being an Imam, said he is determined in sowing hatred among non-Muslims.

Samarita said Army units in North Cotabato will assist local officials in relief operations to evacuees.

[Source: The Manila Times, Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao, 22Dec17]

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