2 extortionists killed in S. Kudarat shootout

The shootout reportedly occurred in the town of President Quirino in Sultan Kudarat province.

But the police and the military have different versions of the story.

Senior Supt. Robert Kiunisala, newly installed director of the South Cotabato police command, said the two were first sighted in a remote barangay of this city, but fled on a motorcycle towards President Quirino, 60 kilometers away. This was the reason, he said, that South Cotabato policemen were involved in the operation.

But he did admit that aside from his policemen, troopers of Task Force Sanglahi, the Army’s 75th Infantry Battalion, and Sultan Kudarat police joined the operation.

Kiunisala said operatives failed to find identification cards in the suspects’ bodies and thus did not get their names. But he said they suspected the two belonged to the Abu Sulaiman Group, supposedly an extortion ring operating in Southwestern Mindanao with ties to the Jemaah Islamiyah and the Abu Sayyaf Group.

He added that operatives seized from the suspects two US-made short firearms with live bullets, cellular phones, and a motorcycle with registration plate XF 1914.

The Army, on the other hand, said that it was actually an entrapment operation they set up, not a chase by South Cotabato police.

The Army apparently has more details as they got the suspects’ names — Bonnex Usop alias Ong Hussein and Bonnex Esmael alias Ong Abu, both members of an extortion group led by a certain Commander Abu Sulayman. (The police spelled it Sulaiman while the Army spelled it with a Y.)

“In fact, it was Sulayman that signed extortion letters given to many business establishments in Tacurong City, including Tacurong Fitmart and KimSan Plaza,” said Lt. Col. Paul Atal, 75IB commander, in a telephone interview.

The Army also alleged that Sulayman’s group was behind the bombing of KimSan Plaza last Dec. 28 and the fire that gutted the third storey of Tacurong Fitmart, also last year.

“In many of the extortion letters that Sulayman signed, he would write his cellular phone number. From that number, we traced his whereabouts,” Atal claimed.

He said Sulayman had been demanding P50,000 each in monthly protection money from Tacurong Fitmart and KimSan Plaza.

Atal said that 2 p.m. last Tuesday, elements of the 75IB and Task Force Talakuddong, led by Col. Restituto Aguilar, launched the entrapment operation in Barangay San Jose, President Quirino, believed to be Sulayman’s haven.

A road in San Jose, considered “less travelled by,” reportedly leads to the Liguasan marsh, alleged sanctuary of other supposed lawless groups like the Abu Sofia that allegedly has links with JI.

While Army intelligence operatives were on their way to Sulayman’s place, they encountered Esmael’s group and engaged them in a 10-minute running gun battle, Atal said.

The Army soldiers suffered no casualties, he added.

The bodies of the slain victims had been turned over to President Quirino police, Atal said. (With reports from Malu Cadeliña Manar / MindaNews)