AN Indonesian jihadist, 24 members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and four Army soldiers were killed in heavy fighting since Saturday as part of a three-week offensive against the bandit group in various parts of Mindanao.
The Indonesian terrorist was identified by a source as Mohammad Muktar, who was operating under the BIFF’s Abdullah Makapaar, alias Commander Bravo.
The Indonesian and two local bandits were killed after soldiers from the Army’s 51st Infantry Battalion repulsed an attack on a military post in Bayabao Poblacion, Butig, Lanao del Sur Saturday evening.
Muktar was the second Indonesian terrorist killed since Sucipto Ibrahim Ali, a member of the Mujahidin Indonesia Timur, one of the 10 foreign jihadists with apparent links to the Islamic State that slipped into the country and were hiding in Mindanao.
The fighting in Lanao del Sur started after the BIFF attacked Charlie Company of the 51st Infantry IB and the 2nd Platoon of the 5th Mechanized Infantry Battalion in Butig town.
Shortly after, the group launched another attack on Army troopers at a nearby post, prompting Army commanders to mobilize armored tanks reinforced by two MG520 attack helicopters and OV-10 bomber planes, which pounded rebel positions until Sunday.
The fighting spilled over to a nearby village in Alog, Lumbatan town, after rebels said to be affiliated with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front ambushed a convoy of military reinforcements at 10:45 a.m. Monday.
Reports said military convoys with two armored personnel carriers from the 5th Mechanized Battalion were waylaid by gunmen believed to be followers of Edris Salindawan, alias Abuhanif, an MILF base commander.
The rebel force, armed with high-powered firearms, numbered about 100 and launched sporadic attacks on Army positions, leaving one soldier killed and six others wounded.
Armed Forces spokesman Gen. Restituto Padilla said the rebels were trapped by pursuing troops in Cadapaan village, where fighting raged on until late Monday.
Col. Roseller Murillo, commander of the 103rd Brigade said more reinforcements were mobilized to take out the rebel groups while airborne troops were on standby.
At the town of Datu Salibo, the BIFF also laid out land mines. Padilla said about 100 of these were recovered during clearing operations.
Padilla urged residents not to venture in the surrounding town until all land mines are recovered.
After 24 days of military offensives, government troops captured a major BIFF camp in Maguindanao.
But clearing operations were continuing after the bandits fled the well-fortified stronghold in Barangay Tee, Datu Salibo municipality in Maguindanao.
Three soldiers were killed when an improvised bomb went off, said Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, 6th Infantry Division commander.
Five civilians, including the town treasurer of Datu Salibo, were also killed when a roadside bomb went off in Datu Saudi Ampatuan highway.
The military said the BIFF fighters fled deep into the marshland, probably toward the borders of Maguindanao and North Cotabato.
On Monday, Army bomb experts arrived to help locate the mines so that residents could return home.
The military could not say how many BIFF fighters were killed in the 24 days of fighting that started when the BIFF harassed a private construction company dredging the Butilen River in a flood control project.
The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process said Tuesday construction of a farm-to-market road to connect the towns of Aleosan and Pikit in Cotabato Province would push through despite security threats as part of the government’s commitment under its ceasefire agreement with the MILF.
OPAPP said the road is expected to benefit more than 300 households when completed. Most people in the barangays where the road will be built are Bangsamoro and civilian members of both the MILF and the Moro National Liberation Front.
Work on the project was suspended in January, however, when the BIFF tried to extort P500,000 from the local government of Barangay Pagangan.
When barangay officials did not respond to the demand, the BIFF burned a closed van owned by the contractor Sunstone Construction and strafed the house of Barangay Pagangan Chairman Gregorio Guanzon. With Sandy Araneta, PNA