PIKIT, North Cotabato: Police and military authorities in North Cotabato are on heightened alert against possible retaliatory attacks by recruits of Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and Abdul Basit Usman.
Army Colonel Audie Edralin, commander of the 7th Infantry Battalion based in Pikit, said soldiers have been on alert since January 25 when police commandos clashed with members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
Marwan was killed in the firefight but Usman escaped along with about 15 armed followers.
Maguindanao Gov. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu said Usman is still in Maguindanao.
He appealed to Moro villagers in communities where Usman and his men are believed to be hiding to report his presence to police or military authorities “so the bombings in Maguindanao and nearby areas will stop.”
“There is a possibility that bombers trained by Marwan and Usman will launch retaliatory attacks in populated areas to get back at the death of their leader,” Edralin told reporters.
The military official believes that Pikit was among the target of the terrorists. He said two suspected bombers were killed in Pikit three days after the Mamasapano incident when the improvised bomb they were carrying prematurely exploded.
This intelligence information was corroborated by the local police.
Senior Insp. Sindatu Karim, Pikit police chief, said Asraf Mohammad and Jomar Palaguyan, both of Pikit, were recruits of Marwan and Usman.
The two were blasted to death on the night of January 28 while on board a Baja motorcycle along Manuel Quezon Avenue in Pikit town proper.
Witnesses said Asraf, 28, was driving the motorbike and Palaguyan, 29 was carrying a box on his lap when it suddenly exploded at 6:20 p.m.
“I was shocked seeing mangled body,” said witness Cesar Eleuterio, 34, who was on his way to the convenience store when the blast happened. “I felt strong wind coming to me right after the blast,” he said.
Karim said bomb experts recovered fragments of 60-mm mortar with mobile phone as the trigger mechanism at the blast site.