Terrorists in our midst

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MARIT STINUS-CABUGON

AFTER successfully hosting the 10th Meeting of the Asean and Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement trade negotiating committee and related meetings from April 19 to 22, Bohol is now ready for May, the month of fiestas. According to Bol-anon Blogspot, 10 towns and the capital city of Tagbilaran are celebrating fiestas in May.

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Boholanos naturally worried that the Abu Sayyaf (ASG) spectacle would disrupt the merrymaking. The band of 11 ASG members which landed in Inabanga on April 10 was not easily neutralized despite bombings and deployment of hundreds of government troops. And then, just as the army finally got Joselito Melloria and three of his companions last April 22, enters Police Supt. Maria Cristina Nobleza. Until then, the enemy had been ASG bandits hiding somewhere in the wilderness. Now, here was a senior police official from the Davao region and her young driver with dozens of aliases, apparently on a mission to rescue or aide Melloria’s group.

Imagine the surprise of the military and police in Clarin town when they found out that they had a wanted terrorist and the mother-in-law of four notorious terrorists—Ahmed Santos (jailed founder of the Rajah Solaiman Movement), slain Malaysian terrorist Marwan and slain ASG leaders Khaddafy Janjalani and Jainal Antel Sali—in their custody, accompanied by a police officer at that. The local police was rattled.
It was obvious from the way they behaved towards one another that the driver and Nobleza were a couple, according to someone who was present during the arrest. Nobleza has subsequently revealed that the two were wed in Muslim rites by Marwan.

The man was presented as Renierlo Dongon. But he is also Rener Lou “Ren-Ren” Dongon in various articles by Maria Ressa; Reenor P. Dongon in a 2013-2014 House of Representatives investigation; Rener Lou Pidoy Dongon in a February 2015 Terrorist Watch in Northern Mindanao. “Kudri” is one of Dongon’s more known aliases and it was among the 22 names of suspected terrorists listed by the Davao City Police Office last year in connection with security preparations for then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s thanksgiving party (Mindanao Times).

A 2015 special report on Marwan by Maria Ressa (www.rappler.com) reveals that Dongon helped guard the three members of the International Committee of the Red Cross who were taken hostage by the ASG in Sulu in 2009. His sister, Zainab, had married Marwan when Khaddafy Janjalani, her husband, was killed. In 2010, Dongon’s brother – a member of the ASG – was killed. “From then on, Marwan kept in constant touch with Ren-Ren through calls and text messages,” writes Ressa.

(The mother-in-law referred to above is the mother of Dongon, who was a passenger in the car being driven by Dongon when he and Nobleza were arrested. Dongon’s mother was also arrested but the police decided to release her, together with the 13-year-old daughter of Ahmed Santos.)

In 2012 Marwan and Dongon stayed in Butig, Lanao del Sur. Here Dongon learned how to make bombs, though not from Marwan who had only basic bombmaking skills (Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, March 2015). In October the same year Dongon tried his newly acquired skills in what became known as the Maxandria Hotel bombing in Cagayan de Oro City. Two bystanders were killed.

Arrested by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in Marawi City in May 2013, Dongon was released a few weeks later. More bombs exploded in Cagayan de Oro City, this time at Kyla’s Bistro at Limketkai Mall, killing six and injuring 48. The military claimed that Dongon, one of the suspects, was the leader of Khalifah Islamiyah Mindanao, a new “shadowy” organization. However, according to Indonesia-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (October 2016), Khalifah Islamiyah Mindanao is believed to have been organized by Abdullah Maute and by 2014 had become Islamic State-Ranao.

A congressional investigation into Dongon’s release from police custody was conducted in 2013-2014. It was found that the arresting officers had failed to verify the validity of the warrant. Seven police officers were administratively charged for this fiasco (House of Representatives committee daily bulletin).

Nobleza insists that she is a deep penetration agent using Dongon to gain knowledge of ASG plans. Journalist Froilan Gallardo in an April 27 article published in Gold Star Daily quotes intelligence sources that indeed Nobleza was ordered to get close to Dongon to get to Marwan. Marwan is long dead though, killed in January 2015 in Mamasapano.

The public has a right to ask how a person of Dongon’s notoriety could make it to Bohol in the company of a police officer. He has two pending warrants of arrest for the Maxandria and Kyla’s Bistro bombings, is on at least two local terror watch lists, and was the subject of a congressional investigation. Thousands of people have been killed or locked up in jail for far less.

All is well that ends well and the immediate threat from the Abu Sayyaf in Central Visayas is over. However, the term “evolving threat” used by Maria Ressa in 2013, to describe Khalifah Islamiyah Mindanao, is probably the prudent angle from which to view violent extremism in the Philippines today.

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