3 more Abus killed; cop, driver held
CLARIN, BOHOL – A female police officer assigned to Davao Region and her driver have been detained on suspicions that they were here to rescue the remaining Abu Sayyaf members, who were being hunted down by government troops after a foiled attempt at mass kidnapping.
Supt. Maria Christina Nobleza and Reenor Lou Dungon tried to drive past a police checkpoint past 8 p.m. on Saturday, about the same time the police and military teams were hunting down the bandit group and later killed three members here, a considerable distance from the Abu Sayyaf strongholds in Sulu and Basilan provinces.
Military sources said Nobleza, deputy regional chief of the crime laboratory in Davao Region, claimed that she was in Clarin on a tour.
But investigators were not buying it after they recovered Nobleza’s cellular phone and saw a text message purportedly from one of the Abu Sayyaf members, begging to be rescued.
In-law of Abu leader
Intelligence sources said Dungon was said to be a brother-in-law of an Abu Sayyaf leader.
With the two were an elderly woman and a teenager.
Government troops locked down parts of Barangay Bacani here after the presence of the remaining Abu Sayyaf members was detected following a tip from a “habal-habal” (motorcycle) driver.
Four slain since Saturday
Four Abu Sayyaf bandits have been killed since Saturday, including Joselito Melloria, a native of Barangay Napo in adjacent Inabanga town who had converted to Islam.
Melloria was killed on Saturday afternoon while the three unidentified others were slain in the evening.
According to the military, Melloria, alias Abu Alih, assumed the leadership of the remaining Abu Sayyaf bandits, who escaped the government siege in Napo on April 11 that left at least four of his comrades, including their leader, Muammar Askali, alias Abu Rami, dead.
Abu Rami had been involved in the kidnapping and execution of Canadian and German nationals in recent months, according to the military.
The military has been struggling to wipe out Abu Sayyaf, which originally had Muslim separatist aims but now engages mostly in banditry and piracy.
The group has been holding more than two dozen captives, most of them Vietnamese sailors, who are easy prey for militants equipped with small, fast boats.
Cave, Nissan pickup
The remaining Abu Sayyaf members were later found to be hiding in a cave in Bacani, a place familiar to Melloria because he had studied high school in Clarin.
About 9 p.m. on Saturday, a black Nissan Navara pickup drove past a police checkpoint in Barangay Bacani, prompting soldiers to chase the vehicle.
The pursuit ended in Sitio Kabasakan, in Bacani, which was about 150 meters from the cave that served as the hideout of the remaining Abu Sayyaf members.
While at the police station, Nobleza went to the toilet, pretending to pee, according to the police official who was privy to the interrogation but was not authorized to give a statement to reporters.
SIM card recovered
The cellular phone was later recovered inside the toilet but without the SIM card, which the police later found outside the toilet with the help of a K-9 dog.
Based on the text messages on the card, it appeared that Nobleza was communicating with the remaining Abu Sayyaf bandits in Clarin who were asking to be rescued.
Nobleza told interrogators that she was on a tour in Bohol and just passed by the area, a police source said. She didn’t give any other answer except, “I invoke my right to privacy.”
In the meantime, the four slain Abu Sayyaf members, including Melloria, were buried in a public cemetery in Clarin past 3 p.m. in keeping with Islamic law that the body be buried within 24 hours from the time of death.
Only Melloria was claimed by his relatives from Barangay Napo, Inabanga. —WITH REPORTS FROM BENJIE TALISIC, PHILIP C. TUBEZA
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