BIFF gunmen attack North Cotabato town

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Families in evacuation centers due to the armed conflict in Pigcawayan town in North Cotabato

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 21) — Members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) on Wednesday attacked Pigcawayan town in North Cotabato and took five civilians as hostages.

Gunmen stormed a school after a "failed attempt" to attack a militia outpost in Barangay Malagakit at dawn on Wednesday, the military and police said.

The 34th Infantry Battalion engaged the rebels in a firefight, taking extra caution as the enemy used civilians as so-called human shields, Armed Forces spokesman Restituto Padilla said.

In a media briefing at around 11:30 a.m., Padilla said the BIFF "have withdrawn from the area. The school area is again safe."

"Sa mabuting palad, nangyari ang pag-atake bago pa man makarating sa eskwelahan yung mga estudyante (Fortunately, the attack happened before the students arrived at the school," Padilla said.

He said authorities are checking if the rebels have released five civilians they held hostage.

Local government officials said 100 families were evacuated.

North Cotabato's schools division superintendent, Omar Obas, said the security guard at Simsiman High School escaped as the gunmen were "ransacking" the school. He reported to the nearest military detachment.

The Department of Education suspended classes in Pigcawayan West District.

The local government of Midsayap, around 30 kilometers from Pigcawayan, also suspended classes in all levels.

Pigcawayan is around 200 kilometers from Marawi City, the battleground of government forces and terrorists for a month. The military believes the BIFF is supporting the Maute and other terror groups in trying to set up an ISIS caliphate in Mindanao.

Martial law is in effect over the Mindanao island group since May 23.

This is a developing story. Please refresh page for updates.