Military launches attacks vs 'Turaife group' in N. Cotabato

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 19) — The military on Tuesday said it launched offensives in North Cotabato against a group associated with Abu Turaife, who is believed to be the next emir of ISIS in Southeast Asia.

In a statement, the 6th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army said the Joint Task Force Central launched air strike and ground operations at Barangay Tunganon, Carmen, North Cotabato, where members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters associated with Turaife were located.

"All safety procedures were undertaken of the well-coordinated, deliberately planned, and specific-target operation," it said.

Task Force Central Commander Maj. Gen. Arnel Dela Vega said he will be firm in stopping the group from pursuing any form of terrorist activities.

"I am very determined to defeat the threat groups and thwart them from doing terroristic activities in Central Mindanao," Dela Vega said.

The military earlier said that after the death of Abu Sayyaf-Basilan leader Isnilon Hapilon in October towards the end of the Marawi siege, a certain Abu Turaife is believed to have been chosen as the next emir of the ISIS in Southeast Asia.

Hapilon, along with the two Maute brothers, led hundreds of gunmen in a five-month battle against government forces in Marawi City.

The military has identified 22 members of the Turaife group, AFP Spokesperson Edgar Arevalo said in a Malacañang press briefing.

ISIS, or the Islamic State, is a terror group that has seized territories in Iraq and Syria. They have claimed responsibility for many deadly attacks worldwide, and has since attracted numerous sympathizers, including some citizens from Southeast Asia.

President Rodrigo Duterte cited the threat posed by the Turaife group as among the reasons for requesting Congress to allow the extension of martial law in Mindanao for another year.

Duterte in his letter to Congress said the group is "planning to conduct bombings, notably targeting the Cotabato area."

Congress approved Duterte's request which means military rule will remain in effect in Mindanao until December 31, 2018.