RETREATING Maute rebels threatened to decapitate President Rodrigo Duterte and military officials who drove them out of Butig town in Lanao del Sur, even as Philippine National Police chief Dir. Gen. Ronald dela Rosa said the terrorists’ real aim was to disrupt the government’s relentless campaign against illegal drugs in Mindanao.
“The illegal drug operations in the region have been badly affected by the PNP’s operations, prompting them to tap terrorists in an effort to ease the pressure,” Dela Rosa said.
The police chief acknowledged, however, that this was his personal view and not the official PNP position.
Earlier this week, the military drove the some 200 members of the Maute group from their positions in Butig town in Lanao del Sur in six days of heavy fighting in which 62 terrorists were killed.
The group vowed revenge Friday.
“Better hide. Be wary, Duterte. We’ll have your head,” a parting message left by the terrorists on a chalkboard in Butig said.
The jihadist group also offered this advice to soldiers: “Get ready, soldiers, we’ll cut off your heads.”
Armed Forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla had a warning of his own for the terrorists.
“There’s an end to everything,” he said in Filipino. “And if your pockets are not deep, the Armed Forces’ pocket are very deep, deep enough to hunt you down and finish you off.”
Earlier this week, Padilla said the Maute group had already retreated from the old municipal building after being overpowered by ground and air shelling.
Following six days of fighting in Butig town, the military said 62 members of the Maute group have been killed while 37 soldiers were wounded.
Citing a report from the 103rd Infantry Brigade, Padilla added that the Butig has been “100 percent cleared” of the Maute group.
Thousands of residents who fled the fighting have yet to return to their homes for fear of landmines that the retreating terrorists might have left.
The Maute group was behind the deadly Davao City night market bomb attack on Sept. 2 that killed 15 people and wounded 70 others.
At least three suspected Maute members were arrested by military operatives two months after the blast that Dela Rosa also linked to narco-terrorism.
Also on Friday, a member of the Parojinog family of Ozamis City denied any connection with the Maute group or the illegal drug trade.
“We outrightly deny any connections with Maute group or to any terrorist group here and abroad. We are not in any way involved in the drug trade nor associated with any terrorist group,” Ozamis City Vice Mayor Nova Princess Parojinog said in a statement.
She added that they have nothing to do with any act of terrorism or any act of violence or any act to destabilize the peace and order in the region.
Padilla said that the military is willing to heed the call of President Duterte for the AFP to talk peace with the Maute group and the Abu Sayyaf, but warned that the offer to make peace should not be “at the expense of justice.”
“If they want war, we will give them war. There is a limit to our patience... The Armed Forces has all the means to obliterate their forces,” Padilla told reporters.
“Those who have pending warrants or who were already sentenced in court must answer for the crimes they have committed,” he added.
Padilla said that the terrorist group have yet to send surrender feelers.
He also urged the press to limit the coverage of the Maute group because publicity is what they want to establish links with the Islamic State terrorist group.
“It would be better if news about the Maute group will not be reported because we are only giving them an opportunity to reach their target audience,” Padilla said.
Padilla said Butig would be secured to make sure the terrorist group did not return.
At the same time, Padilla denied accusations from a youth group that the ambush on the President’s advance party in Marawi City was set up by the military.
“I’d like to state that whatever news that came out viral in social media coming from a certain alleged youth group is nothing but propaganda,” Padilla said.
“The incident did and actually happened and was not something that was contrived or made up by the Armed Forces. Our men were hurt in a roadside bombing,” he added.
Padilla admitted that military committed lapses in securing the area, allowing the terrorist group to leave a bag containing an improvised bomb in the area where they know the convoy will be passing.
“The convoy was an easy target because it was a marked vehicle and they were moving in broad daylight,” he said.
Seven members of the Presidential Security Group and two of the troops escorting the convoy were hurt in the IED explosion.
President Duterte visited the injured government troops in a hospital in Cagayan de Oro on Wednesday.
Before trying to seek an alliance with IS, the Maute group has been affiliated with the Jemaah Islamiyah that used to be a significant terrorist group in Southeast Asia in the mid-90s but is now trying to seek funding and recognition from IS as a ‘wilayat’ or province in Southeast Asia.
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