Kidapawan, Philippines. 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, remain involved in the offensive to wrest back control of villages and the business district. At least 258 militants, 65 soldiers and policemen and 26 civilians have been killed.

Islamic rebels raided a southern Philippine village and positioned themselves in a school as they engaged troops in a gunbattle early Wednesday that officials said may be an attempt to disrupt the massive military offensive in besieged Marawi city. They took five civilians as shields during their retreat later in the morning, the military said.

Realan Mamon told News Front by email, that gunmen from the Bangsamoro Islamic terrorist group raided the village of Malagakit in North Cotabato province at dawn and engaged government forces in a firefight. Villagers fled to safety.

“I got a report that the attackers occupied an elementary school but it’s not sure whether people were trapped in the fighting or were taken hostage,” said Mamon, the police chief of Pigkawayan town, where Malagakit is located. The Malagakit school was closed at the time of the attack.

Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said the gunmen targeted an army outpost and a patrol base of pro-government militiamen, who fired back and were later reinforced by army troops. The attackers apparently were withdrawing, and took five civilians as human shields, none of them students, Padilla said.

America’s military in recent weeks has deployed a P3 Orion aircraft to provide surveillance and intelligence to troops battling more than 100 gunmen holding an unspecified number of hostages in four remaining Marawi villages. President Rodrigo Duterte, despite having an antagonistic stance toward US security policies, has acknowledged the US assistance is helping save lives, as he faces his most serious crisis in his yearlong presidency.

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 by supporting local militants with money, training and weapons.

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