ZAMBOANGA CITY: Revenge was likely the motive behind the killings on Tuesday of two army soldiers who were assisting in the probe on the ambush of a television news team in Marawi City, officials said Wednesday.
Army Colonel Roseller Murillo, commander of the 103rd Infantry Brigade, said the soldiers were slain by a local group whose illegal activities were hit hard by the anti-criminality campaign of the military in Marawi.
Sergeant John Saballe and Private First Class Sofronio Grame, Jr., both members of the 65th Infantry Battalion, were shot dead on Tuesday outside Ranao Broadcasting Corporation near the Masjid Islamic Center in Marawi City. A woman near the scene was also shot and wounded by a bullet during the attack.
Meanwhile, the police were also looking into the possible involvement of radical jihadist group Khilafah Islamiyah Movement, locally known as “Ghuraba” (Stranger) into the attacks and other atrocities in Lanao del Sur and other areas in Northern Mindanao.
“Not radicals, but this attack on the soldiers is a long standing rido of certain Maranaw group involved in illegal activities na nasagasaan ng 65th Infantry Battalion starting in 2013,” Murillo told The Manila Times.
Murillo said the soldiers were on an official mission in Marawi City in connection with the ongoing investigation into the attack on the ABS-CBN news team on December 26. He said the soldiers were supposed to meet an informant to shed more light on the ongoing investigation of the attack.
The shooting occurred on the same day the police filed criminal charges against two men – Nasser Masurong and Yusop Sangcad – tagged as among those behind the ambush on ABS-CBN reporter Ronnie Enderes and his team Emilito Balansag and Gary Montecillo.
Masurong and Sangcad have been identified by witnesses but it was not immediately known whether they were involved in the killing of the soldiers. They remain at large while complaint of frustrated homicide was filed against them before Marawi City Prosecutor’s Office.
The National Bureau of Investigations said they were sympathizers of radical groups in Marawi supporting ISIS.
Authorities are on heightened alert in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur and the provinces of Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat following the spate of deadly attacks by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) has strongly denounced the atrocities committed by the BIFF in Maguindanao and nearby Sultan Kudarat, calling the attacks on innocent civilians “barbaric and an act of terrorism.”
ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman said the attacks that killed over a dozen people were “devoid of any sense of revolutionary zeal and principles.”
“It was an act of terrorism. It was an attack against civilians, an attack against peace and development in Mindanao, and a cowardly act that deserves nothing but our collective condemnation. We should reject this as we should not be cowed by this.”
“In the face of this act of terrorism, we rely on each other for strength and courage. We rely on our security forces – the military and the police – as we are confident that the attacks will be contained and a spill over are prevented,” Hataman said.
The ARMM Humanitarian Emergency Action and Response Team and the Department of Social Welfare and Development have distributed relief goods to the affected communities in the towns of Datu Abdullah Sangki and Ampatuan, in Maguindanao.
A total of 818 displaced families were served in Datu Abdullah Sangki town and 335 families more were assisted in Ampatuan town, according to Hataman.
The BIFF, which is fighting for a separate Islamic state in Mindanao, has warned of more attacks in the restive region.