DATU UNSAY, Maguindanao: Military clearing operations continued Thursday to hunt down commanders of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) blamed in Wednesday’s attack that killed 11 fighters and an 11-year-old girl.
The Philippine Army 601st Brigade commander, Col. Cirilito Sobejana, said that besides the 11 BIFF members killed, at least 19 other fighters were also wounded.
Fighting started on Wednesday in Barangay Kuloy, Datu Unsay while government forces were conducting clearing operations at the “SPMS Box,” composed of the towns of Salvu, Pagatin, Mamasapano and Shariff Aguak.
A military official told The Manila Times they received an intelligence report prior the assault that the jihadists, led by BIFF Commander Muhaiden Animbang, alias Kagi Karialan, would carry out attacks on army bases.
“We knew already that the group will attack again and our troopers were alerted,” said an official who asked not to be named for lack of authority to speak on the issue.
Karialan is among group’s top commanders because of his tactical skills and religious influence. He has been waiving the banner of the Islamic State (IS) in Maguindanao even during the time of BIFF founder Umbra Kato.
After Kato’s death, the BIFF leadership was transferred to Ismael Abubakar alias Commander Bungos, who was blamed for Wednesday’s attack.
Captain Jo-Ann Petinglay, spokesman of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said that a group of 20 armed men belonging to the group of Abubakar swooped down on an army detachment belonging to 19th Infantry Battalion.
Troopers from the Army’s 34th Infantry Battalion responded and clashed with the group of Karialan in Barangay Meta, Datu Unsay, a town adjacent to Shariff Aguak.
Two soldiers were wounded, but a 15-year-old girl, identified as Fatimah Elian, was killed after being hit in the head by a .50 caliber bullet. The military and the BIFF have firearms of the same caliber.
Residents, however, blamed the BIFF for the death of Elian.
The ongoing operation followed military operations in Basilan, Sulu and Lanao del Sur, where other Islamic fighters maintain strongholds.
The current operations were coordinated with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), from which the BIFF broke away.
Meanwhile, hundreds of civilians have fled to safer grounds to avoid being caught in crossfire.
The provincial government on Thursday afternoon distributed relief goods to the evacuees in the villages of Kuloy and Meta.