More than 1,000 families flee homes in Muslim majority Sulu after Daesh-linked group threatens to launch more attacks
Thousands of residents of a majority Muslim island province in the Philippines south have fled their homes after a Daesh-linked militant group threatened to launch more attacks.
Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan Jr. revealed in a statement that as of 5.00 p.m. (0900GMT) Thursday, the total number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) had risen to 5,045 individuals from 1,102 families.
"Validation of IDPs from the conflict affected barangays [villages] by the local government unit is still going on," said Tan, who also chairs the Sulu Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office.
According to GMA News, some of the civilians living around the camp of the army's 35th Infantry Battalion had evacuated to a temporary shelter put up by the provincial government.
Journalists covering military efforts from the camp were also moved to a larger military camp in the provincial capital Jolo due to Abu Sayyaf warnings.
The militant group had earlier released statements via text messages and social media saying that members would launch attacks starting Sept. 1 and that they were prepared for additional soldiers deployed to Sulu.
The threats come after an Aug. 29 military offensive that reportedly left 15 soldiers and 30 Abu Sayyaf members dead.
President Rodrigo Duterte flew to southern Zamboanga City on Wednesday to attend the wake of 11 of the 15 troops killed in the offensive, launched after the head of state ordered an all out assault on the militants following the group’s beheading of an 18-year-old Filipino hostage.
During his visit, Duterte branded the Abu Sayyaf as "cannibals" who practice beheading and mutilation.
"They are terrorists and they kill... by beheading in front of the world, civilian or soldier... It has deteriorated to some kind of cannibalism,” he said.
"We want to end this war. I do not want to continue even for a day, hopefully. No soldier wants to die, they all have families.”
On Thursday, Maj. Filemon Tan Jr., Western Mindanao Command spokesman, confirmed that that government troops were deployed to Sulu.
"The number is expected to increase in the coming days," Tan told defense reporters during the departure honors given to the fallen soldiers in Zamboanga City.
"We are mourning the death of the brave soldiers but the incident will not dampen our morale, as we vow to finish off the Abu Sayyaf Group," he stressed.
A total of 2,500 troops have been deployed to Sulu to join the five battalions carrying out offensives against the Abu Sayyaf since last week.
Since 1991, the Abu Sayyaf -- armed with mostly improvised explosive devices, mortars and automatic rifles -- has carried out bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and extortion in a self-determined fight for an independent province in the Philippines.
It is one of two militant groups in the south who have pledged allegiance to Daesh,
prompting fears during the stalling of a peace process between the government and the country’s one-time largest Muslim rebel group that it could make inroads in a region torn by decades of armed conflict.