KIDAPAWAN CITY: A new rebel group is believed to be involved on Friday’s clash between government troops and militants, which left five people dead in Lanao del Sur.
Col. Glen Macasero, commanding officer of the Marawi City-based 103rd Infantry Brigade, maintained that the incident had nothing to do with the government’s engagements with both the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Calling themselves the Ghuraba (strangers), the armed men on Friday’s encounter was allegedly composed of Muslim youths based in Lanao del Sur said to be advocating the Khilafa Islamiya ideology.
The group claimed responsibility for the attack, lamenting that it lost five of its members in the cited encounter.
“Farewell to my four dearest brothers who were chosen for Shahadah, yesterday [Friday], after slaughtering whatever they could amongst kuffars [disbelievers]with their mere handguns . . . Wallahi, I would have wished nothing more than . . . being with you, to go and meet Allah on such a blessed day. Farewell, my dearest brothers . . . We shall meet in Jannat-ul Firdaws [Paradise], Insha Allah,” Zulbijaadeyn Alghareeb, a professed member of the group, said in his Facebook account on Saturday.
The armed group was on board a multi-cab and a pickup as they drove past the checkpoint of the 51st Army Battalion and shot a soldier manning the checkpoint at about 6:45 a.m. on Friday.
The other soldiers returned fire immediately, according to Macasero.
“This checkpoint is fixed and sometimes not manned by soldiers. Maybe the gunmen thought that way and was surprised when they saw there were soldiers [positioned behind]the checkpoint,” Macasero said.
He added that soldiers pursued the armed men who fled towards the mountains of Ganassi town. The troops recovered an M16 rifle, an M14 rifle, a carbine and a .45 caliber pistol.
Local sources privy to the Ghuraba operations said the two-vehicle convoy of the armed group was sent to reinforce the guerilla forces of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
“Ghuraba already has some members engaged with BIFF guerillas currently operating in North Cotabato and Maguindanao,” one of the sources told reporters.
Another source, however, said that the group’s attack was a “spill-over” of the Zamboanga crisis. The source noted that the group was composed of militants responding to the “mistreatment” of captured MNLF fighters as seen in videos and reports that they obtained and circulated over social media websites.
The government last month speculated about the emergence of a broader Khilafa Islamiya Movement (KIM) which it blamed for the recent bombings in several parts of Mindanao.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin earlier said that the KIM is an umbrella organization of rogue MILF and BIFF forces.
MILF First Vice Chairman Ghazali Jaafar also previously stressed that some Bangsamoro leaders who were dissatisfied with the peace efforts in Mindanao created the new “threat group.”
The BIFF, however, dismissed as speculation the existence of the KIM.
BIFF spokesperson Abu Misry Mama earlier stressed that the KIM speculation is just a government ploy to “sow fear” in Mindanao.