21 Moro rebels killed in clash
COTABATO CITY—The military said air and ground assaults on hideouts of renegade Moro rebels suspected of providing shelter to terrorists had killed at least 21 rebels and wounded 26 others, but renegade leaders said bombs dropped by military planes “only hit trees and the marshland.”
The offensives were launched from March 13 to 16, according to the military.
Col. Diosdado Carreon, 601st Infantry Brigade commander, said FA-50 jets and MG 520 attack helicopters were used in the bombardment.
Abu Misry Mama, spokesperson of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), said the air strikes and ground assaults only led to displacement of villagers.
“The bombs only hit trees and the marshland,” Mama said. “We were not there when the bombings occurred. We are not affected, only the civilians were displaced.”
“We are still here,” he said, denying that the BIFF, composed of former members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front opposed to peace talks with the government, was providing shelter to terrorists.
Capt. Jo-Ann Petinglay, the military’s Western Mindanao Command spokesperson, said the military had been validating reports that alleged foreign terrorist Muhammad Ali bin Abdulrahman, alias Muawiyah, and Singaporean bomb expert Salahuddin Hassan were among those killed in the military assaults in the outskirts of Datu Salibo town.
Petinglay said Esmael Abdulmalik, alias Abu Toraype, founder of new terror group Dawlah Islamiyah Maguindanao, was also killed. Abdulmalik is also a member of the BIFF, Petinglay said.
Capt. Arvin John Encinas, spokesperson of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division (ID), said five improvised explosive devices and bomb components were recovered during the three-day operation.
The assaults were launched after foreign terrorists were sighted with local BIFF forces in the villages of Andavit and Tee in Datu Salibo.
Brig. Gen. Arnel dela Vega, 6th ID chief and head of Joint Task Force Central, said no casualty was reported on the government side.
At 3 a.m. on Saturday, five firearms were recovered following a brief gunfight between soldiers and the BIFF in Barangay Pidsandawan, Raja Buayan, Maguindanao. It was not clear if renegades suffered casualties.
Encinas said soldiers also found manuals for bomb-making that indicated the presence of terrorists in the area.
The rebels and their trainees were allegedly targeting the power lines of the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines and other civilian installations in Mindanao.
Encinas said the group that the soldiers encountered in Raja Buayan was among those trained by slain international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, who was killed in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao, in January 2015.
That operation led to the deaths of 44 members of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force.
The group with links to Marwan has been training local renegades, including members of the Lanao del Sur-based Maute Group, to make bombs. Test missions include bombing power pylons and public places.