KIDAPAWAN, Philippines (UPDATE 4, 3:23 p.m.) — The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters raided a North Cotabato village and positioned themselves in a school as they engaged troops in a gunbattle early Wednesday that officials said may be an attempt to disrupt the massive military offensive in besieged Marawi City.
Police Chief Inspector Realan Mamon told The Associated Press by telephone that gunmen from the BIFF raided the village of Malagakit in North Cotabato province at dawn and engaged government forces in a firefight. Villagers fled to safety.
Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said the gunmen took five civilians to use as human shields as they retreated. None of the hostages taken Wednesday was a student of the Malagakit school, which was closed at the time of the attack.
Padilla said authorities were still trying to verify if the civilians had been freed or not. He added that a spokesman for the attackers has said they did not mean to take hostages and the civilians were taken only to help cover their withdrawal. He said no one has been reported hurt, the situation has been addressed, and the gunmen have retreated.
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