ZAMBOANGA CITY: Abu Sayyaf militants opened fire on a group of Muslims celebrating the Eid’ul Fitr festival on Monday in Talipao town in the southern Philippine province of Sulu, killing at least 16 people, mostly women, security officials said.
At least 13, mostly children, were also wounded in the attack which was strongly condemned by provincial government officials.
Capt. Maria Rowena Myuela, a spokeswoman for the Western Mindanao Command, said the victims were traveling on two civilian vehicles when militants led by Idang Susukan and Sibih Pisih ambushed them.
She said at least 50 people were on the vehicles, including their escorts who were members of the Barangay Police Action Team. She said 10 women were confirmed dead in the attack.
“We condemn this attack on innocent civilians, especially at this important time when Muslims are celebrating the Eid’ul Fitr,” she told The Manila Times.
She said Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, chief of the Western Mindanao Command, has ordered security forces to pursue the Abu Sayyaf ambushers. “There is an ongoing operation against the Abu Sayyaf terrorists,” Myuela said.
The motive of the attack is still unknown, but it could trigger retaliation by families and relatives of the victims against kin of the Abu Sayyaf attackers.
But Muyuela surmised that the civilian casualties were only collateral damage, saying that the actual targets were the 10 Barangay Peacekeeping Action Team (BPAT) members.
“This is the retaliatory action of the ASG [Abu Sayyaf Group] against the BPAT, which is supporting the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] and PNP [Philippine National Police] on law enforcement operations. That’s the reason,” Muyuela added.
The attack occurred just as Muslims in the southern Philippines ended the fasting month of Ramadan and was celebrating the Eid’ul Fitr. Locals celebrated the occasion with thanksgiving after the conclusion of the thirty days of dawn-to-sunset fasting during the Ramadan. This is a day when Muslims around the world show a common goal of unity.
Eid’ul Fitr is celebrated for one, two or three days and Muslims are also encouraged on this day to forgive and forget any differences with others or animosities that may have occurred during the year.
Brig. Gen. Martin Pinto, commander, 2nd Marine Brigade, said that a joint marines and police team have already been dispatched in the ambush site to run after the attackers.
“It’s still somewhat sketchy. I can’t still give you the complete details,” he said.
As of now, Pinto added they were closely coordinating with the mayor of Talipao and with the village chief where the ambush took place.
In a related development, the communist New People’s Army also attacked members of the 1st Cavalry Squadron in Barangay Maragang, Tigbao, Zamboanga del Sur that left four soldiers wounded.
Capt. Franco Suelto, spokesman, 1st Infantry Division, said the soldiers were on board their service vehicle on their way to Zamboanga City when they fired upon by the rebels.