Mark Navales and Jeoffrey Maitem
Police seized dozens of firearms and arrested two retired soldiers and seven others during an anti-terrorist sweep in the southern Philippines over the weekend, as security forces pursued pro-Islamic State (IS) militants, officials said Tuesday.
Senior Superintendent Raul Supiter, the provincial police chief, said officers confiscated about 50 assorted firearms, ammunition and explosives from the suspects during a raid on Saturday in Sultan Kudarat province, about 166 km (103 miles) south of Marawi city.
Troops and police have been placed on heightened alert in Mindanao, the country’s third-largest island and home to various armed groups, including small gangs considered an offshoot of IS-backed militants who were behind a five-month battle with government forces in Marawi.
Mindanao remains under military rule, which has not been lifted by President Rodrigo Duterte despite his government declaring an end to the Marawi battle last month that had left more than a thousand people dead.
Among those arrested were former Army sergeants Rufino Lama and Rodolfo Ecija, Supiter said.
"It could be noted that Ecija was monitored to be possessing assorted high-powered firearms and seen roaming around with armed bodyguards,” Supiter said.
He said investigators were looking into reports that the two could have connections with IS-linked militants in the region.
President Rodrigo Duterte earlier declared the Marawi clashes over, after troops killed the leader of IS in Southeast Asia, Isnilon Hapilon, last month.
The fighting ended with 930 militants, 165 police and soldiers and 47 civilians dead, in what has been described by officials as the biggest violence perpetrated by an armed group in recent years.
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