Top Abu leaders lead attacks in Basilan
ZAMBOANGA CITY—At least 200 members of the terror group Abu Sayyaf, led by two of their highest-ranking leaders, attacked an Army headquarters surrounded by civilian communities in Basilan province on Sunday, sending residents fleeing to safety and starting a gun battle that was still going on as of late Thursday afternoon.
Joel Maturan, former mayor of Ungkaya Pukan town in Basilan, said the terrorists, armed with .50 cal. machine guns, had positioned themselves on four hills surrounding the community of Punoh Butigan in the village of Sungkayot where the 18th Infantry Battalion headquarters is located.
The terrorists, said Maturan, “seemed to be determined to get the headquarters.” He said he and his rubber plantation workers had armed themselves and prepared to fight alongside government soldiers.
He said false reports that the town of Tipo-Tipo was the one under attack, not Ungkaya Pukan, sent residents there fleeing in panic.
The terrorists launched the attack on Ungkaya Pukan around 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday until 2 a.m. Thursday. They resumed the attack around 7 a.m. Thursday.
“It’s on and off,” said Maturan. “I wonder why these bandits are not running out of ammunition and food.”
Supt. Oscar Nantes, Basilan provincial police chief, said he sent more policemen to Tipo-Tipo and Ungkaya Pukan to help the military.
The terrorists are led by top Abu Sayyaf leaders Puruji Indama and Isnilon Hapilon.
Nantes said at least 2,000 families from Ungkaya Pukan, Tipo-Tipo and Al Barka towns had been displaced.
He said police and military were also bracing for an attack on the municipal hall and police station.
Nantes said he could not provide casualty figures yet.
Maturan said the terrorists repositioned themselves in the community of Punog Alibasa, which falls within the jurisdiction of Tipo-Tipo, Ungkaya Pukan and Al Barka.
“But the volley of fire is landing on us,” Maturan said. At least 400 families had already fled, he said.
Tong Isarul, former Tipo-Tipo mayor, said classes in all eight elementary and high schools in his town had been canceled.
“We were all caught by surprise,” said Isarul. “We were winding down our Eid (end of Ramadan) celebration when the attack happened.”
“People are afraid to move around,” Isarul added.
The attack took place as a Tausug trader was freed by his Abu Sayyaf captors on Wednesday after almost a year in captivity.
Maj. Filemon Tan Jr., spokesperson of the Western Mindanao Command, said Araji Maani, who is into money-lending, was freed in the village of Wanih Piyanjihan in Parang, Sulu.
Maani was kidnapped on July 27 last year.
The terrorists have beheaded two of their captive Canadians after their ransom demands were ignored by the government.
A terrorist spokesperson had said Abu Sayyaf was dedicating the beheadings to then incoming President Duterte.
After the beheadings, Duterte said the time for reckoning for the Abu Sayyaf would surely come. Julie S. Alipala, Inquirer Mindanao
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