The Philippine military said on Tuesday it had killed almost 40 militants loyal to the Islamic State (IS) group, including three Indonesians and a Malaysian, in a major land and air assault in the south.
The foreigners were part of more than 160 fighters of the Maute group of militants who came under attack last weekend in Mindanao Island, said national military chief General Eduardo Ano.
“We inflicted about 37 enemies killed, 14 have been identified and 23 still unidentified, with three Indonesians and one Malaysian,” he told reporters in Manila.
It was unclear how he arrived at the death toll.
Lieutenant Colonel Jo-ar Herrera, the spokesman for the brigade which led the assault in the town of Piagapo in Lanao del Sur province, said soldiers had recovered only three bodies but informants and local residents had reported a far higher death toll among the extremists.
He said soldiers had found foreign passports belonging to some of the dead but declined to give details.
Ano said the foreigners were former members of the South-east Asian militant group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), which carried out the 2002 bombings on the Indonesian holiday island of Bali.
JI has long had a presence in the southern Philippines and has trained locals in such skills as bomb-making.
The military, using FA-50 jets, helicopter gunships, bomber planes and artillery, attacked and eventually captured the Maute camp which covered three to four hectares (seven to 10 acres).
The Maute group has “IS aspirations” and was seeking to be recognised by the jihadist movement which has conquered swathes of Iraq and Syria, Herrera said.
Soldiers found black IS flags at the camp along with improvised explosive devices, grenades, a laptop computer, cellphones and a camera used to create videos for recruitment, he said.
Troops are still hunting for more than 100 members who fled to the hills, he added.
The Maute group is just one of several Muslim armed bands in the strife-torn southern Philippines whose leaders have pledged allegiance to IS.
The group has been linked to bombings and kidnappings and has launched several large-scale assaults on local communities. – AFP