Militants escape after holding 31 hostage at school in Philippines

12 children among those held captive at primary school

Philippine troops patrol a grassy area near the frontline in Marawi on Mindanao. file Pic/AFP
Philippine troops patrol a grassy area near the frontline in Marawi on Mindanao. file Pic/AFP

The Philippine military said Islamist militants fled from a primary school in the south on Wednesday, leaving behind 31 hostages unharmed, including 12 children, after a daylong gunbattle with troops.

There was no word of casualties in the incident at Pigcawayan town, which is about 190 km south of Marawi City, where fighting between government troops and pro-Islamic State militants has entered its fifth week. "The enemy made a hasty withdrawal, leaving behind 31 hostages, among them 12 youngsters," said Brigadier General Restituto Padilla.

He said another 20 civilians who were trapped in the area because of the crossfire were also rescued. Police said about 300 armed men from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) stormed the school early on Wednesday. Padilla, however, said later only about 50 militants were involved. Military officials were initially not certain if any hostages were taken and whether they included children. Community leaders in the area were called in to help in negotiations to rescue the hostages, Padilla said. "It's over ... but we're also on guard because they might carry out other attacks," said Padilla.

Abu Misry Mama, a spokesman for the BIFF, told Reuters that the militants had taken civilians to a safe place, away from any crossfire, and did not intend to hold them hostage. Asked earlier if they would be freed, Mama said: "Yes. We're not kidnappers."

Brussels attack could have caused heavy casualties
A suitcase bomb packed with nails and gas bottles could have caused heavy casualties, Belgium's prime minister said on Wednesday, a day after a soldier shot dead a Moroccan national attempting an attack on Brussels' Central Station. "We have avoided an attack that could have been a great deal worse," said Charles Michel following Tuesday evening's incident.

The dead man had not been suspected of militant links.

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