SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao: The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has stepped up its offensives against terrorists in southern Philippines by bombarding since Monday a training camp of the jihadists in Salibo town in Maguindanao province.
At least three Maranao extremists originally from Lanao del Sur were reportedly wounded in the military’s attacks.
The offensives forced more than 400 Maguindanaon families to evacuate to safer areas after Philippine Army units started shelling the lair in Salibo of a breakaway faction of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) led by Commander Salahudin, whose real name is Salahudin Hassan.
The Army operation in Salibo’s adjoining villages of Andavit and Gawang was launched after authorities learned that Salahudin and companions Abdulmalik Esmael, Bashir Ungab, Nasser Adil and Ansari Yunos are coddling a foreign terrorist identified as Mauwiyah.
Salahudin and his four henchmen were jointly trained in handling and fabrication of improvised explosive devices in nearby Mamasapano town in 2014 by the slain Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, or Marwan, and his accomplice, Abdulbasit Usman.
The elusive Mauwiyah is also known as Hamoody Ali, Mohammad Ali and Suharduno.
He is of mixed Singaporean-Indonesian descent and is a member of the Jemaah Islamiya, which started as a cell in Indonesia of the al-Qaeda and eventually became identified with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria or ISIS.
According to the displaced residents, the three Maranao members of the Dawlah Islamiya, which is based in Butig town in Lanao del Sur, were injured when artillery shells landed in the hideout of Salahudin in the initial barrage of artillery fire from a nearby Army detachment.
“They were carried away from the scene by companions and brought to a marshy area near the boundary of the provinces of Maguindanao and North Cotabato,” a local official said.
Mauwiyah and Salahudin were said to have relocated to a swampy area in Butilen District near Talitay town in Maguindanao as the bombardment continued.
Village leaders said they have been receiving feedback from informants that the radical BIFF faction under Salahudin and the Dawlah Islamiya, more popularly known as the Maute terror group, merged in November 2016.
“That explains why three Maranaos from Lanao del Sur were allegedly injured when mortar projectiles hit the hideout of Salahudin,” one of the sources said.
Two of the three Maranao militants are conversant in the Cebuano dialect, according to the sources.
The Army’s 6th Infantry Division (6th ID), which has jurisdiction over Maguindanao and nearby Sultan Kudarat and North Cotabato provinces, said one of the targets of the ongoing operations in Salibo is Imam Bongos, a leader of another BIFF faction.
The 6th ID noted that its military offensives in Salibo and nearby towns were properly coordinated with the joint ceasefire committee helping oversee the enforcement of the 1997 interim truce between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.