SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao: A militant Moro commander belonging to the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) allegedly planning to bomb strategic targets in Central Mindanao was arrested in North Cotabato after vigilant residents revealed his hideout.
The suspect, identified as Muslimin Ladtugan, alias “Commander Mus,” was undergoing interrogation after his arrest on Monday at his hiding place in Barangay Nabalawag, Midsayap town.
A raiding team of the Army’s 34th Infantry Battalion (34th IB) and the Philippine National Police recovered from Ladtugan materials for improvised explosive devices, an M14 rifle, an M16 rifle, a rocket-propelled grenade and two caliber .45 pistols.
Lt. Col. Gerry Besana of the Army’s 6th Civil-Military Operations Battalion said vigilant residents in Midsayap pinpointed to the 34IB troops the exact location of Ladtugan’s hideout.
Both police and Army intelligence sources said the hunt for Ladtugan was launched following reports from civilians saying that his group is planning a series of bombings to avenge the deaths of 27 BIFF militants in encounters with guerrillas of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Since August 2, the MILF has been fighting a third faction in the BIFF led by bomb-maker Esmael Abdulmalik which uses the flag of the Islamic State as revolutionary banner.
Ladtugan is identified with the group of Abdulmalik, a former right hand man of slain Malaysian terrorist Zulkfli bin Hir, alias Marwan. The MILF’s hunt for Abdulmalik and his men is supported by the Army’s 6th Infantry Division.
Pursuing MILF guerillas have killed 27 militants in a series of encounters that started on August 2. The MILF has lost more than a dozen members in the ensuing gunfights.
The BIFF is notorious for venting their ire on civilian targets to retaliate for losses in encounters with government forces.
Key members of the municipal peace and order councils in the towns that saw scenes of bloody fights between Abdulmalik’s group and pursuing MILF guerrillas in Maguindanao’s second district, said Ladtugan and his men were supposed to set off improvised explosive devices along highways and public places.
The sources hinted that Ladtugan’s objective is to create an impression that their capability to sow terror has not been minimized despite the deaths of 27 of their fellow bandits in the past six weeks.
Besana, spokesman of the Joint Task Force Central that helps local government units prevent the spread of violent religious extremism in central Mindanao, said the Army expressed appreciation to residents who helped in the operation that led to the arrest of Ladtugan.
WITH DEMPSEY REYES