MAGUINDANAO: Nine jihadist members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), including its sub-leader, were monitored killed in sporadic firefight in Datu Salibo town here as the military continues with the clearing operations on a dredging project that was attacked by the group.
Colonel Felicisimo Budiongan, Army commander of the 1st Mechanized Brigade, said among the dead was a BIFF sub-leader identified only as Abu Supian. He was killed during Tuesday’s military pursuit operation, while eight others were recorded in previous clashes since the operation started on Friday.
He said the reported casualties was based on military intelligence and was corroborated by eyewitnesses.
Budiongan said the BIFF also suffered an undetermined number of injured, including another sub-leader of the group identified only as Commander Bitol.
Except for an army officer and two civilians, who sustained minor injuries, no other casualties were reported.
Budiongan said an “indirect support fire” was being staged to drive away remaining BIFF groups, who were occupying Barangay Tee in the town.
Local residents and stranded commuters reported to have heard loud explosions on Tuesday along the highway in Datu Piang. They expressed fear of renewed war in Mindanao.
The Army commander allayed fear of war, adding that the current operation was harmonized with the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) through the Ad-Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) of the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Military officials said the encounter started when the breakaway group of the separatist MILF started harassing the ongoing flood control project in Datu Salibo.
The report said the BIFF burned heavy equipment and attacked military forces who were defusing a bomb planted under a bridge.
Meanwhile, Lt. Col. Warlito Limet, commander of the Army’s 2nd Mechanized Infantry Battalion, 1st Mechanized Infantry Brigade, said government troops diffused several landmines or improvised explosive devices that were planted around the river-widening project in Barangay Butalo and Barangay Tee of Datu Salibo on Friday. The explosives were allegedly planted by a group of BIFF who was reported extorting from the project constructor.
The current hostilities came amid non-passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in Congress, which was also reportedly lauded by Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding chairman Nur Misuari and his forces in Sulu.
The BIFF, with more than 400 members, has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) and is opposing the current peace process in Mindanao.