by: Roel Pareño
Published in ph.news.yahoo.com
|(Combat vehicles of the 1st Marine Brigade dot a stretch of a highway in Maguindanao the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters had tried to occupy in recent attacks. John Unson)|
Government troops captured Sunday a bomb and weapons factory of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) announced yesterday.
Col. Restituto Padilla, AFP spokesman, said the captured bomb and weapons factory is located inside an area controlled by radical Muslim cleric Ustadz Mohammad Ali Tambako at Barangay Dasikil in Mamasapano.
Officials said there were reports that slain Malaysian bomb maker Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, was buried by his local supporters in Barangay Dasikil following the raid of the Special Action Force (SAF) commandos on his hideout in nearby Barangay Pidsandawan last Jan. 25
“As of yesterday, one of our units, the Army’s 601st Infantry Brigade was able to capture an enemy camp that has served as a bomb-making and arms factory of the BIFF,” Padilla said.
The troops recovered a lot of bomb-making materials including ammonium nitrate, mortar fuses, blasting caps, wires and steel rods and other devices that could be used as shrapnel.
Col. Melquiades Feliciano, 601st Brigade commander, said BIFF rebels were forced to abandon the camp to escape the Army assault at around noon last Sunday.
“The enemy was able to escape but the equipment and materials that used to fabricate home-made bombs were left behind,” Feliciano said.
There were reports that Tambako’s group is protecting Marwan’s Filipino cohort Basit Usman who had escaped the Jan. 25 SAF raid.
The SAF troopers later clashed with Muslim rebels that resulted in the death of 44 policemen, 18 rebels and several civilians.
There were also reports that Usman is hiding in Pikit, North Cotabato under the protection of BIFF commander Kagi Karialan.
Karialan’s group has been attacking communities controlled by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Barangays Kabasalan and Bulol in Pikit, North Cotabato where some 25,000 residents were reportedly displaced.
President Aquino has ordered the AFP and the Philippine National Police (PNP) to get Usman at all cost in response to the killing of the SAF 44 in Mamasapano.
“Several tipsters have spotted Usman in the bailiwicks of these cohorts. Five foreign nationals who are believed to be members of an international terrorist organization were seen moving with Usman as they evaded their pursuers,” Feliciano said.
The military is still validating reports the suspected foreign terrorists seen with Usman, who reportedly lost two of his close-in security to sustained Army operation, include one Arab national and four Indonesians.
AFP Public Affairs Office (PAO) chief, Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, meanwhile said that as of yesterday, the all-out military assault on Maguindanao and North Cotabato has resulted in the killing of nine BIFF members while three soldiers were wounded in the fighting.
BIFF bombers nabbed
Policemen intercepted Sunday night three members of the BIFF who were allegedly on a mission to bomb evacuation sites full of residents displaced by ongoing military operations against the outlawed group.
Inspector Harris Lino, police chief of Shariff Aguak town, said the arresting team seized fragmentation grenades and handguns from BIFF members Omar Sawal, Rashid Ayungan and John Yunao.
Lino said the suspects were riding a motorcycle on their way out of the municipal center of Shariff Aguak, the old provincial capital, when policemen stopped them.
Lino said they are now preparing criminal charges against the three suspects.
BIFF rebels previously attacked evacuation sites in different towns in Maguindanao where thousands of residents have sought refuge when armed guerrillas raided peasant enclaves and military installations during the Ramadan in 2012 and 2013.
Army intelligence sources said the three BIFF members were allegedly planning to set off explosives in evacuation sites where Moro families had sought refuge.
More than 8,000 families were displaced by the military operations against the BIFF, which started in the second week of February after the rebels entered villages near the Liguasan Delta at the boundary of Pagalungan, Maguindanao and Pikit, North Cotabato.
Marines and Army troops have been pursuing BIFF bandits in several towns in Maguindanao.
The operations that involved the Army’s 6th Infantry Division and the 1st Marine Brigade were launched to get foreign-trained bomb maker Usman and his five cohorts that include three Indonesians and a chemist with Middle Eastern features.
A Muslim preacher from Mamasapano said the Arab-looking man could either be a Pakistani or an Afghan since he could not speak Arabic fluently and was overheard many times talking to someone on mobile phone in a different language.
A source said Usman and slain Malaysian terrorist Marwan have trained local rebels in making improvised bombs in Mamasapano for the past four years.
Residents of Sitio Inog-og in Barangay Pidsandawan, Mamasapano knew Usman as Teng and Marwan as Ibs.
The source said the Arab-looking chemist had helped Usman and Marwan train their recruits.
The Humanitarian Emergency Assistance and Response Team (HEART) of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao had reported that tension engulfed the Maguindanao towns of Mamasapano, Shariff Aguak, Shariff Saidona, Datu Unsay, Rajah Buayan, Datu Hofer, Datu Saudi and Datu Salibo after government troops launched the offensive against BIFF forces.
Seven BIFF gunmen were killed while two Marines and an Army soldier were wounded in the clashes.
Laisa Alamia, executive secretary of ARMM, said HEART workers provided relief goods to evacuees in evacuation sites in Mamasapano.
Mayor Zamzamin Ampatuan of Rajah Buayan said some 300 families from barangays in Mamasapano on Friday evacuated to Barangay Bakat in his municipality for fear of being caught in the crossfire.
Capt. Jo-Ann Petinglay, spokesperson for the Army’s 6th ID, said the ongoing operation against the BIFF is only a calibrated police action meant to neutralize the group to prevent its members from attacking hapless peasant enclaves, blocking highways and setting off improvised bombs in public terminals, markets and buses.
Petinglay said all of the military’s punitive actions against the BIFF are coordinated closely with the joint ceasefire committee of the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Meanwhile, government forces have beefed up security in Zamboanga City as authorities braced for possible retaliatory attacks from the Abu Sayyaf as the military has renewed offensives against the bandits in Sulu and Basilan.
Police and security officials here said the threat level has remained on high alert based on the assessment of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA).
Zamboanga City police chief Senior Supt. Angelito Casimiro said a Marine battalion was deployed in the city to augment the local police force. – With Roel Pareño