Military links BIFF attacks to presence of terror suspect

SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao (MindaNews/11 June) – The military had linked fresh attacks by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Maguindanao to the alleged presence of a suspected terrorist in the ranks of the breakaway rebel group.

Abdul Basit Usman, reportedly a bomb expert with Jemaah Islamiyah, was spotted during a raid on a BIFF camp in Barangay Libutan, Mamasapano town Tuesday, BGen. Edmundo Pangilinan, chief of the 6th Infantry Division said.

Pangilinan said that during the joint police-military raid on the BIFF’s alleged bomb manufacturing facility Usman was wounded but managed to escape “as per report from our operating troops.”

This proves BIFF is not only coddling Jemaah Islamiyah, but it seems they have strong ties,” he added.

He said the discovery of the BIFF camp came after persistent intelligence work and while running after the rebels who attacked military detachments and planted improvised explosive devices along routes taken by government troops.

Pangilinan further said they were still trying to confirm reports that two relatives of Usman were killed during the raid.

The raid on Tuesday was carried out by the 1st Mechanized brigade, 45th Infantry Battalion and the Maguindanao police.

Lt.Col. Donald Hongitan, commander of the 45th Infantry Battalion said the rebels fired rocket-propelled grenades but scampered away as the government forces closed in.

But BIFF spokesperson Abumisry Mama denied his group had links with Jemaah Islamiya.

“From what we learned there was strafing incident in Libutan and we have no troops there, maybe they are looking for somebody else”, Mama said.

Four women were arrested after the raid and were referred to the Maguindanao police women’s desk for interrogation.

The US State Department has offered a $1-million bounty for his killing or capture for his alleged involvement in a spate of bombings in the country. In January 2010, he was reported killed by an American drone aircraft near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.

But the Philippine military later said Usman, who was with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front but was expelled from the group for carrying out unauthorized bomb attacks, was alive and hiding in Mindanao.

There has been no conclusive proof on what really happened to Usman after reports came out that he had joined the BIFF. (Ferdinandh Cabrera/MindaNews)