MAGUINDANAO: The Philippine Army seized a village in Datu Salibo town controlled by the radical Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) where dozens of improvised bombs were found and disarmed.
Clearing operations were underway on Sunday with bomb experts checking other booby traps planted by the brigand group, military officials said.
Since skirmishes began in February 5, the military had sent 200 ground troops and utilized 10 armored personnel carriers and two MG-attack helicopters to drive away forces of the BIFF who were occupying the village.
“Troops are in the area [Barangay Tee] clearing a lot of IEDs [improvised explosive devices],” Col. Felicisimo Budiongan, commander of Maguindanao-based 1st Mechanized Brigade told The Manila Times.
The military official could not say when the village would be declared secured even as majority of the BIFF forces have withdrawn.
“There are still some BIFF elements delaying the troops’ movement while [its]main body is retreating,” Budiongan said.
At least one soldier was killed and seven others injured during the past three days of clearing operations. There was no clear data on the number of casualties from the BIFF side.
Army personnel were first attacked by the BIFF in February 5 while they were disarming a reported bomb planted under a bridge in Datu Salibo. The rebels also damaged heavy equipment being used for flood control projects in the Liguashan Marsh river.
Abu Misri Mama, BIFF spokesperson, said the attacks were carried out to express their opposition to projects being implemented in their territory. Mama also claimed that dozens of soldiers were killed and that they had destroyed three tanks, which the military, however, refuted.
The BIFF, which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) also denied involvement in a recent bombing that killed and wounded several people in Datu Salibo town.
The military found and successfully detonated two more bombs in Guindulungan and Datu Odin Sinsuat, both in Maguindanao, the same day on Tuesday when another blast hit Cotabato City.
The bombings happened exactly the same day when IS released online a video purporting its existence in the Philippines.
Authorities also reported that 100 new BIFF recruits are preparing for a “test mission” after having trained in bomb making with bomb expert Salahudin Hassan.
Hassan is a known member of the Al Khobar extortionist group and the Khilafah Islamiyah Movement or Black Flag Movement, a group blamed for the 2013 bombing in Cagayan De Oro City and the toppling of grid towers in North Cotabato and Maguindanao.