Philippine Muslim rebels free hostages from school says military officials

Vastavam web:  Muslim rebels freed dozens of hostages while other captives escaped today from a school as army troops faced another security crisis in the southern Philippines, military officials said.Gunmen from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters maneuvered to attack troop and militiamen outposts but were repelled by government forces today, prompting them to seize villagers as human shields in Malagakit village in North Cotabato province, military officials said.The retreating gunmen, estimated by the military and police to number from 200 to 300, later occupied a Malagakit grade school building, where they sporadically traded shots with troops up to nightfall, said local army spokesman Capt Arvin Encinas.

During a lull in the gunbattle, 31 people, including a dozen children, were either allowed to dash to freedom or escaped from the school. Six other villagers remained in rebel custody, army brigade spokesman Capt. Nap Alcarioto said.Many of the gunmen managed to escape from the school after freeing the hostages, Encinas said.Troops were holding their fire because of the remaining hostages. The fleeing gunmen reportedly rigged some areas of the school with homemade bombs, Alcarioto said, citing statements by some of the freed captives.

“They were taking advantage of the situation that we have a very lightly defended outpost and that they think our forces are elsewhere in the province,” Padilla said. “But that is not the case, our forces are spread all over. We may be facing many fronts but we’ve properly assigned our forces.” Rebel spokesman Abu Misry Mamah acknowledged in a radio interview that his group staged the attack, but said they only took hold of some villagers to protect them during the gunbattle. Last month, about 500 militants seized Marawi, a mosque- dotted center of the Islamic faith in the south of the predominantly Roman Catholic nation. The attack followed an army and police raid on a hideout that failed to capture a top militant suspect. Philippine troops, backed by airstrikes, have been fighting street battles to wrest back control of four areas in the city’s business district.