Army steps up security measures after arrest of bomb expert

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/9 Dec) – Government troops have stepped up their security operations in Sarangani Province and the neighboring areas in the wake of the recent arrest of an alleged bomb expert of a breakaway Moro rebel faction that had been tagged as behind the series of killings and terror attacks in the area in the last three years.

Lt. Col. Adolfo Espuelas Jr., commander of the Army’s 73rd Infantry Battalion, said their troops are currently scouring the mountains of Maasim town in Sarangani where local members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s splinter group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) have reportedly set base.

The Maasim operation came after the arrest of BIFF’s alleged bomb expert identified as Baserin Tongan alias “Palos,” who supposedly played a key role in the roadside bomb attack in Malapatan town in Sarangani last year that targeted a convoy of Sarangani Gov. Miguel Rene Dominguez.

Tongan, who was listed as an operations officer of the BIFF in Sarangani, was nabbed in a raid in Sitio Busok, Barangay Baliton of Glan town last December 3 but was only presented to the media here on Wednesday afternoon.

Espuelas said they were mainly targeting a group led by fugitive BIFF leaders Mohammad Jaafar Maguid and Limbo Jusin Pala, who escaped from a raid earlier this week by joint Army and police operatives on a supposed rebel safe house in Barangay Daliao in Maasim.

“Our (pursuit) operations are ongoing and we’re targeting the immediate arrest of these suspects,” the Army official said.

Police have listed Maguid and Pala as cell leaders of the 3rd Battalion, Headquarters Brigade of the BIFF’s Inner Defense that is allegedly led by Ustadz Haun Salindatu.

Maguid, who had been charged for the attacks at the town center of Maasim in August 2008 that killed three people, was arrested in July 2009 but managed to escape from the Sarangani provincial jail in March 2010.

Chief Supt. Lester Camba, Region 12 deputy police director, said Maguid and Pala eluded arrest during the raid by escaping through the back door of their safe house, which allegedly served as the group’s “bomb laboratory.”

He said they recovered from the safe house an M14 rifle, M16 Armalite rifle, a caliber .30 Garand rifle, an Ultimax 5.56mm rifle, an M203 grenade launcher, a homemade M-79 grenade launcher, assorted ammunition and various bomb-making materials such as wires, blasting caps and unused handheld radios.

In last Wednesday’s press conference, Dominguez said Maguid and Tongan were earlier identified by witnesses as among those behind the explosion of a “motorcycle bomb” at the Lun Masla Bridge in Malapatan town on April 26, 2010.

The governor, whose convoy was then passing by the area, was spared from the attack as only the explosive’s blasting cap went off.

Dominguez said records showed that the group also figured in the grenade attack in Maasim town in June 2009, the murder of Sarangani Rep. Emmanuel Pacquiao’s cousin Rogelio Pacquiao in Sitio Tampuan, Barangay Kamanga in Maasim in July 2009, the killing of Maasim Vice Mayor Sawab Pangolima last October and several other shooting incidents.

Senior Supt. Albert Ignatius Ferro, Criminal Investigation and Detection Group-Region 12 chief, said they were verifying the involvement of the group in extortion activities among businessmen based in Sarangani and in this city.

He said they received reports that the group was into alleged “bombs-for-hire” and “bombs-for-extortion” operations, targeting business establishments and local companies. (Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)