COTABATO, Philippines (AP) — Philippine troops killed an Islamic rebel leader and four of his men in fighting in the volatile south in the latest setback for insurgent forces aligned with the Islamic State group, military officials said Friday.
Army troops gunned down Asim Karinda and four others in a gunbattle in a rural village near Mamasapano town on Thursday, just over a month after he took over Daulah Islamiya, an armed Islamic group whose previous leader was killed in an army offensive, regional military commander Maj. Gen. Juvymax Uy said.
The military did not report any army casualties in the hourlong firefight in Maguindanao province.
Small bands of Muslim rebels, who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group, remain in the country's south despite a 2014 peace pact between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the largest guerilla group, which dropped its secessionist bid and embraced Muslim autonomy in the southern third of the largely Roman Catholic nation.
The military said troops retrieved the body of Karinda, an alleged bomb maker. Also known as Abu Azim, he took over Daulah Islamiya after its leader, Salahudin Hasan, died in an army offensive Oct. 29 in Maguindanao’s Talayan town.
Another fighter of the Daulah Islamiya, which has been blamed for deadly bombings and assaults on government forces, was killed by troops in a clash on Tuesday in Shariff Saydona Mustapha town, also in Maguindano, the military said.
“Our series of successes in countering these terrorist elements is an indication that they are on the brink of defeat,” said Col. Pedro Balisi, who leads an army mechanized brigade.
The Daulah Islamiya along with the violent Abu Sayyaf and other jihadi groups backed a 2017 siege of southern Marawi city, which government forces quelled five months later with the help of U.S. and Australian surveillance aircraft. The violence left more than 1,100 mostly militants dead and sparked fears that the Islamic State group’s violent ideology could be gaining a foothold in Southeast Asia.