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COTABATO CITY – Philippine soldiers have killed at least 8 gunmen whose group has been linked by the military to ISIS in a fierce gunbattle on Thursday in the southern province of Sultan Kudarat, officials said.

Officials said marine soldiers clashed with members of the “Anṣār al-Khilāfah” or “Supporters of the Caliphate” in the village of Butril in Palimbang town. There was no report of military casualties, according to Major Filemon Tan, a spokesman for the Western Mindanao Command.

He said soldiers also recovered five ISIS flags, including a .50-caliber Barrett sniper rifle, an M16 automatic rifle, a .45-caliber pistol, assorted improvised explosives, radio communication sets and various documents with intelligence value from the encounter site.

“Troops conducting clearing operations at the encounter site recovered eight bodies of gunmen, a Barrett rifle, a M16 automatic rifle, .45-caliber pistol, assorted IED materials and five pieces ISIS flags and documents. They are small group of terrorists sympathetic to ISIS,” Tan told the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.

The slain rebels were believed under Mohd Jaafar Maguid, but it was not immediately known whether he was among those killed in the fighting.

Anṣār al-Khilāfah was formed in Homs, Syria in January 2013 to overthrow President Bashar Hafez al-Assad and declare Sharia.

The local members of the radical group have pledged allegiance to the ISIS and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in August 2014. They also released a video in August 2014 threatening to deploy suicide bombers in the Philippines and make the country a “graveyard” for American soldiers, according to a report by the US-based SITE Intelligence Group which tracks online activity of White supremacist and Jihadi organizations.

US troops are deployed in the southern Philippines since 2001 and assisting the government in fighting terrorism in the restive region of Mindanao.

Aside from Anṣār al-Khilāfah, the Abu Sayyaf group and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in the southern Philippines also pledged allegiance to ISIS and vowed to put up a strict Islamic state in Mindanao. (Mindanao Examiner)

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