Monday, July 1, 2013

Army, PNP launch joint manhunt vs. Maguindanao bombers

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 1): Army, PNP launch joint manhunt vs. Maguindanao bombers

Police and military forces have launched a massive manhunt against men believed to be renegade Muslim rebels who set off two improvised explosive devices along a highway in Maguindanao on Sunday that left two soldiers and a civilian wounded.

Col. Dickson Hermoso, speaking for the 6th Infantry Division, said Col. Edgar Gonzales, chief of First Mechanized Infantry Brigade and Senior Supt. Rodelio Jocson, Maguinanao police chief, have met and laid out plans to prevent a repeat of roadside bombings.

Mobile checkpoints have been set up regularly to watch out for suspected bombers who normally used motorcycles in transporting improvised bombs.

Army and police intelligence operatives have initially blamed the bombings to extremist Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), who publicly announced they will subject government forces to harassment.

Two soldiers and a civilian were hurt when to improvised explosive devices were set off along a national highway in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao.

The first IED, fashioned from 105 mm howitzer, went off at about 9:20 a.m. Sunday that left Pfc. Reynaldo Sotto, an unidentified motorist said to be an off-duty Marine officer and a civilian named Fatimah Kunakon, resident of Barangay Satan, Shariff Aguak.

The explosive went off as the convoy of soldiers led by Col. Noli Orense, commanding officer of the 603rd Brigade, was passing Shariff Aguak en route to Buluan town, venue of the mass oath-taking of elected provincial and municipal officials.

Orense said the IED, triggered by a mobile phone, could have malfunctioned and went off after the military convoy had already passed the spot.

Several vehicles were in convoy heading toward Buluan from Maguindanao's first district when the roadside bombing happened.

Orense and Senior Insp. Marlon Silvestre separately said the bombs could be intended for local officials or Army personnel passing Shariff Aguak since a big political gathering was to take place in Buluan.

Silvestre said Kunakon was sitting in front of her house across the blast scene and sustained shrapnel injuries. The wounded soldiers are now confined at Camp Siongco Hospital.

The second IED, planted some 500 meters away from the site of first explosion, also went off at past noon when convoy of local officials and Army personnel were expected to return home from Buluan.

No one was hurt but the twin blasts forced Army and police personnel to temporarily block the highway while clearing operations were ongoing. It was opened an hour later.

Military intelligence operatives of the 6th Infantry Division suspected the radical BIFF as behind the bombing attempts.

Abu Misry, BIFF spokesman, would neither confirm nor deny his group was involved.

The BIFF gained notoriety last year when it launched simultaneous attacks against military and police installations in a futile effort to prevent the signing of the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro in Malacanang.

The BIFF, composed now of renegade guerrillas, was opposed to the proposed new autonomous political entity in southern Philippines as it vowed to push for the establishment of an Islamic state in Mindanao.

Police and military estimate of BIFF forces was about 1,000 heavily armed men backed by mortars and shoulder-fired rocket propelled grenades.

Its areas of operations include the towns of Datu Piang, Mamasapano, Shariff Aguak, Datu Unsay, Guindulungan, Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Datu Abdullah Sangki and the Maguindanao marshland.

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