MANILA, Philippines – A leader of suspected sympathizers of the Islamic State group was killed Thursday in a clash with Philippine police in the south, raising fears that his brutal group may retaliate by attacking a huge Catholic procession in Manila next week.
Senior Supt. Leonardo Suan and other officials said Mohammad Jaafar Maguid, leader of a small but violent Islamic group called Ansar Al Khilafah Philippines, died in the shootout before dawn in southern Sarangani Province's Kiamba town.
Three of Maguid's followers were arrested in the shooting near a beach resort that happened after police went to check reports from civilians about the presence of armed men, said Suan, deputy director for operations of the regional police.
National police chief Ronald Dela Rosa said Maguid's remaining followers and militant allies may retaliate, possibly by trying to attack the annual procession of a centuries-old black statue of Jesus Christ, called the Black Nazarene, in Manila on Monday.
As part of added security for the procession, which is expected to draw millions of Filipino devotees, Dela Rosa announced a gun ban and ordered more policemen to be deployed to secure the huge religious event.
"We haven't monitored any (threat) so far but we expect some retaliation coming from the ISIS-inspired groups," Dela Rosa said during a news conference. "With or without the threat, we have to make sure that nothing will happen. Let's make sure that the celebration of the feast of the Black Nazarene will be a hard target."
He said Maguid and his group were behind many bombings, killings, beheadings and other terrorist acts, including a grenade blast that killed a police officer and wounded dozens of people. He is also suspected of recruiting minors.
In August, government troops clashed with Maguid's group in Sarangani's Maasim town, killing three of his followers and seizing two rifles and an IS group-style black flag from the militants.
A number of other Islamic groups in the southern Philippines, including Abu Sayyaf, have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group, but the military says there has been no sign of a direct collaboration between Filipino gunmen and militants in Syria and Iraq.