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CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – Hundreds of families fled their homes in the towns of Pagayawan and Tubaran, Lanao del Sur following military operations against Islamic State (ISIS) forces, which were being led by Owayda Marohomsar or Abu Dar.
Abu Dhar is a former lieutenant of slain ISIS emir Isnilon Hapilon, who led a faction of the Abu Sayyaf Group and the Maute Group.
A high-ranking military official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak on the matter said the operations against ISIS began on June 14.
The source said information from several sources indicates Abu Dar’s presence in the area.
Salma Jayne Alonto-Tamano, Lanao del Sur provincial information officer, said a firefight between the Philippine Army and remnants of the ISIS-Maute Group escalated on Sunday, June 17.
Tamano said the military’s pursuit operation against local terrorists is now on its third day.
The clashes erupted days after the military launched on June 14 intelligence operations to hunt down Abu Dhar. Air strikes were carried out on Sunday, said Colonel Romeo Brawner, spokesman of the 1st Infantry Division operating in the area.
Brawner added the firefight that happened in Tubaran, Lanao Del Sur on June 17 was part an effort to go after the remnants of the Maute-ISIS group.
“Mayroon tayong ongoing na intelligence operations para mahabol si Abu Dhar at ‘yung Maute remnants. Ito na yun (We have an ongoing intelligence operations to pursue Abu Dhar and remnants of the Maute Group. This is the result),” said Brawner.
Brawner said the air strikes were carried out in the mountainous areas of Tubaran.
He added current reports indicated that 5 members of the Maute-ISIS group led by Abu Dar, have been killed. The military is still verifying these reports.
Tamano added, based on initial reports from the municipality of Tubaran, the military operations affected 8 barangays and displaced at least 500 families.
“Currently, IDPs (internally displaced persons) are in evacuation centers in Tangkal Elementary School and National High School. The rest are in the Multi-purpose building of Malaganding,” Tamano said.
“From the municipality of Pagayawan, around 255 families were displaced and out of these, 57 families are now in evacuation centers in the Toril and Tent evacuation centers,” Tamano added.
Tamano said that it was in Barangay Guiarong, located at the boundary of the municipality of Tubaran and Pagayawan, where the firefight erupted. “Among the barangays affected in Pagayawan are Padas, Guiarong Pagayawan, Linindingan, Diampaca, Bangon, and Madang,” Tamano said.
“According to the report, almost half of the population of the said barangays have evacuated. There are some who were trapped in barangays Padas and Diampaca as they cannot leave just yet pending military clearance,” Tamano added.
Binidayan Mayor Abdullah Datumulok also reported last June 17 that Binidayan accommodated 723 families (3,571 individuals) from Tubaran and Pagayawan who were affected by the ongoing military pursuit operations of the AFP.
Lanao del Sur Governor Bedjoria Soraya Alonto Adiong has immediately ordered the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office to provide all the necessary humanitarian response and assistance to the IDPs affected by this military operation. She also ordered the Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office to prepare relief goods to be distributed to the IDPs once there is clearance from the AFP stating that it is safe to go to Tubaran, Pagayawan and other affected areas.
Governor Adiong is asking her constituents to remain calm and alert, and to pray for everyone’s safety. She has ordered the Provincial Information Office to continuously coordinate with the AFP for updates on this situation. – with reports from Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler.com