MANILA -- Philippine troops have launched airstrikes and ground assaults against an Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) leader, who is trying to establish a new base for an alliance of armed groups backing the Islamic State group, in Lanao del Sur, a Philippine military chief said.

Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief Eduardo Año said airstrikes targeted the ASG senior leader Isnilon Hapilon on Wednesday and Thursday. Hundreds of troops began pursuing him and allied bandits in the mountainous hinterlands of Butig town in southern Lanao del Sur.

Año said Friday, January 27, that Hapilon, who is on the US Department of Justice list of most-wanted terrorists, moved to Butig from his stronghold on southern Basilan island in the middle of December to look for a base for his new alliance of small extremist groups.

The move is to test whether Central Mindanao is conducive to the establishment of a “wilayat” or an Islamic State, Department of National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Thursday. (AP/PNA)