BIFF gunmen storm Maguindanao town
COTABATO CITY — Gunmen belonging to the Islamic State-linked (IS) Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) stormed Datu Piang town in Maguindanao province past 10 p.m. on Thursday, in a show of force reminiscent of the siege of Marawi City in 2017.
Lt. Col. Anhouvic Atilano, spokesperson of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division (ID), said the gunmen were led by a “Commander Motorola,” entering the town around 10:30 p.m. and looking for its police chief, Police Capt. Israel Bayona.
Unable to find Bayona at the municipal police office, Atilano said the gunmen, instead, burned a newly acquired patrol car parked outside.
According to Atilano, the gunmen could have wanted to retaliate on Bayona for leading a law enforcement operation earlier in the day.
“One of the suspects sought the help of his relatives in the BIFF,” Atilano said. “They came to get back at the police chief.”
Datu Piang resident Akeel Hasan said he saw the gunmen arriving in motorcycles and multicab vehicles, brandishing high-powered weapons such as machine guns.
The scene, Hasan added, was “similar to the Marawi siege” although the gunmen carried no black IS flag.
“They were firing in different directions; many fired guns in the direction of concrete houses,” Hasan recalled.
The men, who wore black uniforms, tried to enter the town hall compound but were repulsed by Army troopers, Hasan said.
Although there were no casualties, Datu Piang Mayor Victor Samama said the people in the town were traumatized by the hour-long attack.
“It was first time in [our] history that the town center was attacked by Moro gunmen,” Samama said, adding that many residents, especially women and elders, were crying.
Samama said there were around 50 armed men involved in the attack.
“We are used to armed conflict [happening] outside the town, but this time, it happened right at our doorstep. Really terrifying,” said Samama, who was at the town hall with the police chief at the height of the attack.
“I never thought the BIFF, who admittedly have relatives in the town center, can ever do that,” the mayor said.
“A handful of soldiers and policemen secured and defended the town hall during the attack,” Samama recalled.
As Army reinforcements, backed by armored personnel carriers, from the 6th ID arrived past 11 p.m., the BIFF gunmen were forced to escape.
Maj. Gen. Juvymax Uy, 6th ID chief, said the BIFF’s attack was obviously to impress that it was still a force to reckon with.
Admitting to carrying out the attack, BIFF spokesperson Abu Jihad told a local radio station on Friday that they were forced to do it due to the rampant illegal activities in the town, including the proliferation of illegal drugs and alcoholic drinks.
“The law of Islam prohibits all wrongdoings … We are just enforcing it,” Jihad said.
“We will not stop and no one can stop us until there are illegal activities in the town,” he added.
The BIFF split from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s (MILF) armed wing, the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces, in 2010, although its founder, Ustadz Ameril Umbra Kato, openly swore allegiance to the MILF.
Following the incident, more troops with armored personnel carriers were deployed by the Army inside the town center and the municipal hall compound.
The “brazen and senseless” terrorist attack in Datu Piang, Maguindanao, should not derail the government’s efforts to achieve peace in Mindanao, said Basilan Rep. Mujiv Hataman. —WITH REPORTS FROM JOEFFREY MAITEM, JULIE ALIPALA, AND JULIE M. AURELIO
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