Philippines says school hostage drama over, 31 captives freed

Cheryl Sanders
June 23, 2017

ON THEIR TOES. Army soldiers patrol a road at Pigkawayan, a farming town about 160 kilometres (100 miles) from Marawi city, on north Cotabato, in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao on June 21, 2017.

Padilla said it was possible the attack was meant to disrupt an ongoing military offensive against a separate group of IS-aligned militants who laid siege May 23 in Marawi in Lanao del Sur province, also in the country's south.

The latest attack took place as government forces continue to wind down operations against Maute fighters in Marawi City.

Police Superintendent Joyce Birrey, public information officer of the North Cotabato Provincial Office, said in a televised interview on Thursday that the 1,201 residents of Pigcawayan and Simsiman were housed in nearby public schools.

Islamic State-inspired gunmen briefly seized a village in southern Philippines early on Wednesday and took hostages as human shields while fleeing, police said. The Malagakit school was closed at the time of the attack. "The sad thing is they used as human shields our civilians when they withdrew".

Local officials received reports about the planned attack on Tuesday night, prompting them to evacuate most of the residents of the two barangays, the police report added.

"We are in the process of determining how many were trapped and their identities".

"I hope this will be resolved peacefully and I hope there will be negotiations for the sake of the people they are holding hostage", he said on the local GMA television network.

Last month, about 500 militants laid siege on Marawi, a mosque-dotted center of the Islamic faith in the country's south, after a failed attempt by government forces to capture a top militant suspect. Philippine troops, backed by airstrikes and artillery, have been fighting street battles to wrest back control of the city's business district.

However, the military was investigating whether five civilians were still with the militants, he added.

The military has said foreign fighters, including those from Chechnya, Indonesia and Malaysia, have also joined the Marawi conflict.

The attack has sparked fears that the Islamic State group, while losing territory in Syria and Iraq, may be gaining a foothold in Southeast Asia.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law across the southern region of Mindanao on May 23 immediately after fighters flying the IS flag rampaged through Marawi.

Other reports by iNewsToday