ZAMBOANGA CITY: Security forces swooped down on a residential area in Cotabato City and captured the second highest ranking leader of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), officials announced on Tuesday.
Policemen, backed by soldiers, stormed the hideout of Abdulgani Pagao late Monday in Campo Muslim, Barangay Mother Bagua, Cotabato City.
Pagao did not resist arrest when combined military and police elements served a warrant for his arrest issued by Cotabato City Executive Judge Bansawan Ibrahim.
Security forces also recovered a .45 automatic pistol and a hand grenade from Pagao.
Pagao was handed over to the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group and is being interrogated while police are preparing criminal charges against him.
Pagao is the second ranking BIFF leader who was arrested by government troops since the military launched an all-out offensive against the bandit group in February. The large-scale offensive was halted on Monday but security operations continue.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief-of-Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. said in Manila that Pagao was the BIFF’s finance officer and at the same time a division commander. He is also the group’s spiritual adviser.
Another leader, Commander Bisaya, was killed in a clash with the Army troops in Datu Unsay town on March 29.
Catapang said the military is hoping to also get Ameril Umbra Kato, tagged as the BIFF head.
“The next thing we will do is really search for Umbra Kato.”
The AFP chief also disclosed on Tuesday that Army Scout Rangers have been stationed in the towns and municipalities of Salvu, Pagatin, Mamasapano and Shariff Aguak (SPMS) in Maguindanao to prevent the BIFF from reentering the so-called SPMS Box.
He said although the SPMS has been cleared after an offensive launched by the military in February, there were reports that Filipino bomb-maker Abdul Basit Usman had been seen going in and out of the area.
The AFP chief said while combined military and police units are pursuing the BIFF, Usman and five international terrorists they are coddling, Scout Rangers will be manning the SPMS box at night.
The BIFF was founded by Kato in 2010 after he broke away from the mainstream Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Kato had accused the MILF Central Committee of abandoning its pursuit of independence in Mindanao. The MILF signed a peace deal with the Aquino government last year.