MANILA – Muslim guerrillas killed 10 civilians in the majority Catholic Philippines over Christmas, the military said Sunday, with some Christians in the affected areas now too scared to sleep in their homes.
Guerillas from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) captured nine farmers and shot them dead on December 24 in the southern island of Mindanao, said Colonel Ricky Bunayog, commander of the local battalion.
Some of the bodies were not found till two days later, he said.
Also on Christmas eve, the BIFF launched an attack on a village in Pigcawayan town, some 900 kilometers south of Manila, that left a district official dead, the colonel added.
Six guerillas were killed and eight wounded in fighting which lasted three days, although only one body was recovered, Bunayog added.
The raids have stoked fear in Mindanao where Christians are the majority but which the country’s Muslim minority claims as their ancestral homeland.
“Since (Saturday), it has been quiet. But the damage has been done. People on the outskirts are scared and at night, they move to the centre of the town,” sleeping in the local gymnasium, he said.
“I tell them we have enough security forces but they are too scared,” he added.
Bunayog could not rule out more attacks by the BIFF, which split from main Muslim rebel group the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2008 after the MILF opened a peace process with the government.
He said members of the group had been seen meeting “in numbers beyond their usual size,” but could not give a motive for their new attacks on Christian communities.
A BIFF spokesman earlier confirmed they were behind the raids but had said it was over an unspecified land dispute.
The BIFF continues to seek a separate Islamic state and remains opposed to a government-MILF effort to create a Muslim autonomous area in Mindanao as part of a peace agreement.
Last year, the BIFF uploaded clips on YouTube showing one of its leaders pledging support for the Islamic State organization, the jihadist group that has seized a large swathe of territory in Iraq and Syria.