MANILA • Philippine soldiers backed by armoured vehicles have retaken a southern town held for 12 hours by pro-Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants, the army said yesterday, with four rebels killed in urban clashes reminiscent of a five-month siege last year.
The clashes followed warnings by President Rodrigo Duterte that remnants of pro-ISIS militant groups have been recruiting and are still planning attacks on several southern cities to set up an independent and separate Islamic state.
Troops pursued militants from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) group, who fled to the hills after trying to occupy a marshland town, Lieutenant-Colonel Harold Cabunoc, an army battalion commander, said in a statement.
The military will continue to "disrupt the BIFF's plan to sow terror in communities" in the troubled south, Lt-Col Cabunoc said. There was no immediate comment from the Islamist militant group.
Hundreds of residents have remained in shelter areas and not been allowed to return home after troops retrieved improvised explosive devices and other booby traps in the town of Datu Paglas.
Lt-Col Cabunoc said four Islamist militants were killed and two others were wounded. A soldier and a local militia official were also wounded.
Number of hours Datu Paglas, a southern town in the Philippines, was held by pro-Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants.
The army said the Datu Paglas attack could be a test case, since the area was near the militants' marshland base.
Since March, the military has shifted its combat operations from Marawi, a battered lakeside town in Mindanao embroiled in last year's five-month conflict, to the island's marshes, where other pro-ISIS militants operate.
More than 40 BIFF militants have been killed in the last four months by troops in air and ground assaults which the military described as preemptive moves to thwart militant attacks on cities.
The battle for the Muslim-majority city of Marawi, which had a population of 200,000, left large parts of the picturesque, lakeside city devastated after almost daily aerial bombardments and artillery fire.
The extent of damage, estimated at 11 billion pesos (S$281 million) meant it would take years of work to reconstruct Marawi.