Tag Archive: terrorism


Three foreigners abducted by alleged Abu Sayyaf members on Samal Island, Davao del Norte, appeared in another video, calling on authorities to help save their lives by meeting their captors’ demands.

The 1 minute and 38-second video, posted on a Facebook page called “Pamantasan Ng Tawheed At Jihaad Filibin” Thursday morning showed Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, Norweigian Kjartan Sekkingstad, and a woman believed to be Filipina Marites Flor, sitting in a jungle while being surrounded by gunmen.

With one captor holding a bolo against his neck, Ridsdel appealed to the Canadian prime minister and other Canadians to meet the hostage-takers’ demands.

“Please do what’s needed to meet their demands within one month or they will kill me and they will execute us,” he said.

Hall said they are being held by the Abu Sayyaf for an amount of ransom unknown to him, and the Canadian government should act to get them out soon.

“We got one month before this happens,” he said.

Sekkingstad said he and his fellow hostages are being held by the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu.

“Follow negotiations and try to meet their demand within 30 days or we are all dead,” he said.

The woman believed to be Flor did not speak in the video, where the faces of almost all captors — including the one that held a bolo against Ridsdel’s neck — were seen.

One hostage-taker, who was wearing a black balaclava and sunglasses, spoke for the gunmen.

“We will give a warning for one month preparation for the family to meet the demand. Once you step… the negotiation within one month starting today, March 8, 2016 until April 8, 2016. Then, if you think that your policy is far better for you than the lives of the captives, certainly we will do something terrible against these captives,” he said.

A previous video clip showing Ridsdel, Hall, Sekkingstad, Flor and their captors appeared in the Internet last November, barely two months after they were seized in Samal September 21.

Sought for comment on the new video, Armed Forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said authorities have yet to determine its “authenticity.”

“Dinulog po natin itong material na ito, itong video na ‘to, sa tanggapan ng ating mga forensic experts at antayin po muna natin ang kanilang ilalahad at ang kanilang mahahanap upang ma-authenticate natin nang ganap,” Padilla told reporters.

He admitted that threats made by the hostage-takers are “serious” and said operations were ongoing to rescue the captives.

“‘Yan po ang ating isinasagawa, di po nagbabago ‘yan, at karamihan po ng ating mga naisagawa nang activities ay nakatuon ang pansin sa, hopefully, pag-rescue sa mga nasabing bihag,” Padilla said.

Last month, the head of the police’s anti-kidnapping unit confirmed that Abu Sayyaf members are holding the four people kidnapped in Samal.

Senior Superintendent Roberto Fajardo, director of the PNP Anti-Kidnapping Group, also confirmed that members of the al Qaeda-linked group are asking P1 billion in exchange for the captives.

Meanwhile, Padilla called on the public to be more “discerning” on what they see and share on social media.

“Maaaring sila ay nagiging bahagi na ng paninira na ginagawa ng mga grupong ito nang di nila nalalaman… Maging mapanuri at maging maingat sa inyong tinitingnan sa social media para di po kayo nagiging bahagi ng isang propaganda,” he said. (John Roson)

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Authorities in Northern Mindanao have been alerted for a possible “spillover” of clashes between government troops and a local terrorist group in neighboring Lanao del Sur, police said said Saturday.

“The command, which is already on ‘full alert’ status, has intensified its intelligence build-up and checkpoint operations in its boundaries to contain and prevent a spillover,” said Supt. Surki Sereñas, Northern Mindanao regional police spokesman.

Members of the 10th Regional Public Safety Battalion have also been sent to augment provincial and city police units that share geographical boundaries with Lanao del Sur “in case of eventualities,” Sereñas said in a statement.

Lanao del Norte and its capital, Iligan City, share a vast boundary with Lanao del Sur.

Police units there are also “constantly” coordinating with police and military counterparts in the affected areas, Sereñas said.

Clashes in Lanao del Sur’s Butig town erupted last February 20 after about 80 to 100 followers of brothers Omar and Abdullah Maute attacked a military detachment there.

As of Saturday, troops have recovered five bodies of the Mautes’ followers, three M16 rifles, a sniper rifle, and two rocket-propelled grenades, said Colonel Roseller Murillo, commander of the Army’s 103rd Brigade.

Earlier, the military said intelligence reports indicate that at least 42 terror suspects, including Omar Maute, had been killed in the week-long offensive.

Three soldiers also died in the clashes while 11 more were injured.

Security forces have been pounding the hinterlands of Butig since Feb. 20 with OV-10 bomber planes, MG-520 attack helicopters, and Howitzer cannons, prompting more than 20,000 people living nearby to evacuate.

No clash occurred on Saturday, but soldiers are still pursuing the Mautes’ remaining followers, Murillo said.

The Maute brothers’ group has been proclaiming itself as a branch of the Middle East-based Islamic State of Iraq and Syria but authorities dismissed these claims, saying the local gunmen were only joining the ISIS bandwagon.

The group is “allied” to a certain Ustadz Sanusi, an Indonesian conduit of the Jemaah Islamiyah who was killed in a raid in Marawi City in November 2012, Armed Forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said in a recent interview. (John Roson)

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Government forces seized the lair of a local terrorist group in Butig, Lanao del Sur, following a week-long offensive that left as much as 45 people dead and 20,000 displaced, authorities said Friday.

Troops took the “stronghold” of Abdullah Maute and his recently deceased brother Omar before Thursday evening, said Maj. Filemon Tan, Armed Forces Western Mindanao Command spokesman.

“Sadly, three soldiers were killed and 11 were wounded,” Tan said in a text message to reporters.

Intelligence reports on Friday indicated that 42 of the terrorists, including Omar Maute, had been killed, he said.

Soldiers are scouring the group’s lair and have so far found two M16 rifles, a homemade caliber-.50 rifle, and two rocket-propelled grenades, Tan said.

Operations are still underway in the area, though air strikes and artillery fires were halted to give way to ground troops.

“Tao-tao muna at mga tangke ang pumapasok, naka-standby ang mga attack helicopter at kanyon kung kailanganin,” Tan said.

Security forces have been pounding the hinterlands of Butig since last Saturday (Feb.20) with OV-10 bomber planes, MG-520 attack helicopters, and Howitzer cannons, prompting thousands of people living nearby to evacuate homes.

20,000 displaced, more still fleeing

A total of 1,207 families are displaced within Butig while 1,328 fled to the adjacent towns of Masiu and Lumbayanague, and 2,446 more evacuated as far as Buadiposo-Buntong, Ditsaan Ramain, up to the provincial capital Marawi City, according to figures released by the provincial government.

The displaced families are made up of more than 20,000 individuals from five barangays, according to another count by the Office of Civil Defense-Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

“Continuous pa rin [ang evacuation], kasi marami ring naipit doon, di makalabas. Naglalakad na nga ‘yung iba palabas kasi di naman basta-basta masundo dahil continuous ang bakbakan,” said Saripada Pacasum, assistant head of the Lanao del Sur Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office.

“May nadaanan nga kami kahapon (Thursday), ‘yung sasakyan nila binuksan na ‘yung bubong, nilagyan na ng gamit para magkasya lang sila. Kawawa. Makikita na sila (evacuees) sa kalsada na paalis,” he said.

Relief goods short

While those who are fleeing still face woes along the road, some families who have already evacuated are facing a shortage in relief goods.
Pacasum admitted that the sheer number of evacuees has become a concern for relief operations, so the provincial government asked the ARMM regional government for assistance.

As of Friday morning, a total 2,507 familes have been given relief goods and authorities are still working to distribute to 2,474 more.

“Kulang pa, kasi plus ito pa ngang nadadagdag na evacuees, so tuloy pa rin ang repacking,” Pacasum said.

Governor Mamintal Adiong Jr. requested support and the ARMM government’s Humanitarian Emergency Action and Response Team is expected to deliver more goods Friday, he said.

Not ISIS

The Maute brothers’ group of about 80 to 100 men attacked an Army detachment last Saturday, forcing the offensive, Armed Forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said in a recent interview.

The group has been proclaiming itself as a branch of the Middle East-based Islamic State of Iraq and Syria but authorities dismissed these claims, saying there is no real link between the two and the local gunmen were only joining the ISIS bandwagon.

It is “allied” to a certain Ustadz Sanusi, an Indonesian conduit of the Jemaah Islamiyah who was killed in a raid in Marawi City in November 2012, Padilla said. (John Roson)

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Thousands flee Lanao del Sur clashes

More than 2,000 people have fled Butig town in Lanao del Sur to avoid getting caught in the middle of clashes between government troops and a “local terrorist group,” a disaster official said.

A total of 2,067 evacuees from Butig were recorded in the provincial capital, Marawi City, so far and more are reportedly coming, said Saripada Pacasum, assistant head of the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office.

A “bigger number” of evacuees is also being reported in Masiu, adjacent to Butig, but authorities are still checking the figures, Pacasum said by phone.

Personnel of the PDRRMO and its head, retired military colonel Tatar Boriongan, have gone to Masiu to check on the number and distribute relief goods, he said.

The provincial government has convened a crisis committee meeting and is set to announce the figures Tuesday afternoon or evening, Pacasum said.

Residents evacuated Butig amid clashes that erupted on Saturday, he said.

Those who fled to Marawi, which is a two-hour land travel away, commuted and hitched rides on some passing vehicles.

“Iba-iba ang kuwento kung paano sila nakarating dito, may mga namasahe, meron ding mga sumakay sa vehicles na nag-offer ng ride para lang makaalis sila doon, kasi kababayan naman,” Pacasum said.

“Binobombahan kasi ng helicopters at saka ng artillery ng military ‘yung kalaban, so umalis sila (residents) para hindi maipit,” he said.

Initial field reports indicate that eight barangays of Butig are affected by the fighting.

Members of non-government relief organizations, including the Red Cross, have asked that they be allowed to visit the affected areas, and are still waiting for a go signal from the military, Pacasum said.

“Kinordon kasi ng military so ngayon wala pa talagang ng maka-penetrate sa area,” he said.

“Saturday pa nagsimula ‘yung bakbakan pero before pa, tina-try na hindi mangyari ‘yan. Kaya lang talagang matitigas itong grupo na ito ng local terrorists,” Pacasum said.

Army outpost attacked

Brigadier General Restituto Padilla, Armed Forces spokesman, told reporters in Manila that fighting erupted late Saturday when the group of the “Maute brothers” attacked the Army 51st Infantry Battalion’s detachment in Brgy. Bayabao, Butig.

The group of about 80 to 100 fighters is “allied” to a foreign conduit of the regional terror network Jemaah Islamiyah who was “neutralized” in 2012, Padilla said.

Two soldiers were killed and six were wounded, while unvalidated reports indicate that 20 of Maute’s men died, he said.

Troops operating on the ground were supported by Air Force OV-10 planes that conducted bomb runs on known enemy positions and MG-520 helicopters that provided close air support for maneuvering units, Padilla said.

“The group of the Maute brothers was held at bay, cordoned off by our troops, and are holding their position as of press time,” he said.

Pacasum, citing information from the military, said the “terrorists” are not members of affiliates of the Middle East-based Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“Local terrorists lang, hindi totoo ‘yung sinasabi ng iba na ISIS. Walang ISIS dito. Naga-ISIS-ISIS lang ang mga ‘yan,” he said.

Convoy ambushed

Colonel Noel Detoyato, Armed Forces public affairs chief, said another fighting erupted between soldiers and a “local terrorist organization” around 10:45 a.m. Tuesday.

The fighting occurred in Brgy. Pantara-Bato, Tugaya, also in Lanao del Sur, when an undetermined number of armed men ambushed a military convoy, said Major Filemon Tan, AFP Western Mindanao Command spokesman.

Tugaya is on the other side of Lake Lanao, facing Masiu and Butig.

The convoy was transporting an armored personnel carrier to Brgy. Alog in Lumbatan town when it was attacked, Tan said.

One soldier was killed in the fighting, which lasted for about 45 minutes, he said.

Two MG-520 helicopters and a platoon of soldiers with two armored vehicles were sent to reinforce the ambushed troops.

Tan said the military is still trying to ascertain who carried out the attack. (John Roson)

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As much as 17 Abu Sayyaf members were killed as government troops carried out back-to-back assaults on lairs of the al Qaeda-linked group in Basilan and Sulu provinces on Wednesday, the military said.

Up to 15 bandits were killed as troops encountered about 100 Abu Sayyaf members in Indanan town while trying to rescue kidnap victims, according to a report from the Armed Forces’ Joint Task Group-Sulu.

Elements of the Army’s 1st Scout Ranger Battalion clashed with followers of Abu Sayyaf sub-commanders Yasser Igasan and Alhabsy Misaya in Brgy. Buanza 5:25 p.m., the task group said in a report.

Artillery rounds were fired to support the Rangers, while soldiers from the 35th Infantry Battalion, 2nd Marine Brigade, and 32nd Infantry Battalion were mobilized to prevent the Abu Sayyaf from sending reinforcements.

Fighting lasted until 7 p.m. and clearing operations are still underway, task group public affairs officer Captain Antonio Bulao said.

Five bodies and three firearms have so far been recovered. No casualties were reported among the troops.

A report reaching the military headquarters in Manila indicated that the bandits in Indanan were holding six captives, including three who have foreign-sounding surnames and two Coast Guard members.

Hours earlier, around 11 a.m., another clash broke out between soldiers and another band of Abu Sayyaf members in neighboring Basilan.

Troops were conducting combat operations when they encountered about 60 bandits in an Abu Sayyaf “stronghold” in Brgy. Baiwas, Sumisip, Joint Task Group-Basilan public affairs officer Lt. Sally Magno said.

Two Abu Sayyaf members and a soldier were killed, while another trooper and six more bandits were injured, she said.

Combat operations are being conducted to “clear Sumisip of Abu Sayyaf presence, which has been hampering socio-economic activities and threatening lives,” Magno said. (John Roson)

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An Abu Sayyaf member and seven other inmates escaped from the Basilan Provincial Jail in Isabela City early Tuesday, police said.

Among those who escaped is Abu Sayyaf member Said Usman, Isabela City Police chief Superintendent Albert Larubis said.

Usman, a resident of Lantawan, is facing charges of four counts of kidnapping with serious illegal detention, Larubis said.

The other escapees were identified as Akmad Arasani, Obet dela Cruz, Serham Akalun alias Bagio, Benhar Ibrahim, Oliver Tinguha, Mumar Jajuli, and Arajan Dala.

Akalun, Tinguha, and Dala are facing charges for different counts of murder.

Arasani is facing charges of frustrated murder and violation of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act, Dela Cruz is charged for robbery, Ibrahim for cattle rustling, and Jajuli for illegal drugs.

Larubis said the duty provincial jail guard discovered the jailbreak around 8 a.m., while conducting an accounting of inmates at the facility in Geras, Brgy. Sumagdang.

Investigation indicated that the inmates who escaped were detained at cell no. 2, and managed to bolt out by climbing through the ceiling and jumping to the concrete fence, he said.

Police and jail guards are now conducting operations to recapture the escapees. (John Roson)

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Maguindanao clash toll breaches 40

The number of policemen killed in a clash with Muslim armed groups in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, rose to more than 40 on Monday as authorities discussed repercussions of the fighting, which involved a group engaged in peace negotiations with the government.

An “actual body count” of 49 slain PNP Special Action Force (SAF) members was tallied 11:54 a.m., according to a report from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao police.

Some of the bodies have brought to the headquarters of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division in Datu Odin Sinsuat town while retrieval operations for others went on in Mamasapano, according to a copy of the report received 1 p.m.

National Police officer-in-charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, in a televised press briefing in Maguindanao later Monday afternoon, said 43 killed SAF members have been accounted for while 11 were injured and one is missing.

Seven of the slain police commandos whose bodies have been recovered were officers, Espina said.

3 civilians hurt, 500 families flee

Meanwhile, the Office of Civil Defense-Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao reported that three civilians were injured while more than 500 families fled because of the fighting.

Tot Panangulon, his wife Samra, and their 8-year-old daughter Sara were reportedly wounded during the encounter, OCD-ARMM officer-in-charge Myrna Angot said in an emailed report.

A total of 563 families from Brgy. Tukanalipao, where the clash occurred, and neighboring barangays of Pimblakan, Tuka, Pidsandawan, and Dasikil fled their homes, Angot said.

Of that number, 66 families from Tukanalipao are staying at a madrasah (Islamic school) in Brgy. Daladap, while 497 are taking refuge with relatives, she said. 

Gov’t careful on MILF involvement

Ranking officials of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which is currently in peace negotiations with the government, admitted that members of the group were involved in the clash and defended their action.

Government officials, on the other hand, were careful in mentioning the MILF’s involvement.

“Hindi naman naka-uniporme ‘yung mga nagpaputok kontra sa ating kapulisan but in that area, halo ‘yung mga puwersa. We will know exactly,” Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas told reporters in Camp Crame.

Roxas made the remark when asked if the MILF were indeed involved in the fighting.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, in a separate interview, said he received information that the members of the smaller Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), which had broken away from the MILF, were also involved in the clash.

“Ang pagkaalam namin pumasok dito ‘yung BIFF so we have to run after them,” Gazmin told reporters in Camp Aguinaldo.

Gazmin and Roxas, along with Armed Forces chief Gen. Gregorio Catapang and Espina, later flew to Maguindanao to discuss the situation with local authorities.

Cause of concern

The defense chief, without mentioning the MILF, admitted that the government is “concerned” on how the fighting will affect the peace negotiations.

“Hindi naman kami worried but it is a concern dahil may mga taong ayaw sumama dun sa majority, gagawa at gagawa nyan para mapansin,” Gazmin said, obviously referring to the BIFF.

In a phone interview with reporters, MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal admitted that the group is wary of the clash’s possible effect on the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

“‘Yun na nga ang pinangangambahan,” Iqbal said.

Congress’ deliberations for the BBL, which will implement the peace agreement signed between the government and MILF last March, were suspended on Monday until authorities complete the probe on the clash.

“Ang importante dito, ‘yung dalawang panig, ‘yung partners sa peace process, mag-usap at tingnan how to move forward, kasi mas mahalaga ‘yung peace process, mahalaga ‘yung BBL,” Iqbal said.

‘Misencounter’

Iqbal defended the MILF’s involvement in the clash, saying policemen “attacked” an MILF area.

“Lumusob ang PNP so nagdepensa ‘yung MILF… Siguro higit na isang company ‘yun, may dalawang wings ‘yung umatake… ‘yung dalawang wings, ‘yun ang nakasagupa ng MILF kasi ‘yung area na ‘yun mga 90 percent MILF area,” he said.

“One hundred percent, 1,000 percent walang coordination sa ceasefire [committee], walang coordination sa Ad Hoc Joint Action Group,” Iqbal added.

Roxas, in the press briefing in Maguindanao, maintained that the SAF conducted a “legitimate operation” Sunday against Malaysian and Filipino bomb experts Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and Abdul Basit Usman.

“Isa itong legitimate operation against Marwan and Basit Usman. Hindi ito para manggulo,” the DILG chief said.

What happened between the SAF and MILF appeared to be a “misencounter,” he added.

Members of the SAF were already pulling out of their area of operation in Brgy. Tukanalipao when they encountered “lawless elements,” Senior Superintendent Noel Armilla, officer-in-charge of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao regional police, said Sunday night.

“When the Special Action Force
people were withdrawing, they were ambushed by members of the BIFF
and some allegedly, this as to be verified
and validated, had a misencounter with the MILF,” Espina said.

Iqbal said the MILF is conducting an investigation into the clash, but will also wait for the result of a separate probe being conducted by the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team.

Marwan death unvalidated; Basit Usman escaped

Security forces, meanwhile, admitted that they have yet to validate reports that SAF members killed Marwan during their operation.

“According to reports, they (SAF) were able to neutralize one, si Marwan. Although yung isa nakawala, si Basit Usman,” Gazmin said.

“We have no confirmation but that was the report we got last night… We will validate that,” the defense chief said, when pressed for a confirmation on Marwan’s reported death.

“It is most highly likely that he was killed in the process,” Espina said

Marwan, a ranking member of the Southeast Asian terror network Jemaah Islamiyah born in Malaysia’s Johor state, is wanted by the U.S. government who offers US$5 million for his capture.

He is said to have been hiding in the Philippines since 2003 and was previously reported to have been killed in a military air strike in Sulu in 2012.

Usman, linked both to the Jemaah Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf, is also wanted by the U.S. who offers up to US$ 1 million for his arrest. (John Roson)

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Several casualties were reported as police commandos clashed with armed men while hunting down an operative of the Southeast Asian terror network Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, Sunday, a police official said.

“May mga casualty sa side natin at side nila pero di pa namin makuha ang exact figure, we are still in the process of extraction,” Senior Superintendent Noel Armilla, officer-in-charge of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao regional police, said by phone.

The clash involved members of the PNP Special Action Force (SAF) and “lawless elements,” he said.

Earlier, around 4 a.m., SAF members conducted a special operation in Brgy. Tukanalipao, targetting an “individual linked to the Jemaah Islamiyah,” Armilla said, citing field reports.

“Fortunately, according to them, na-acomplish nila ang mission nila, pero habang nagwi-withdraw sila in-engage sila ng lawless elements sa marshland area, that was around 9 to 10 a.m.,” he said.

The clash lasted for hours and “sporadic fighting” is still occuring, Armilla said when reached by phone 7 p.m.

Reinforcements from different units of the ARMM police, and the Army’s mechanized brigade have been sent, he said.

Other policemen, personnel of the local government unit, and the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team are now also in the area to help fetch the casualties and monitor the situation, Armilla said.

Sources said that the SAF operation targetted Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan, a Malaysian bomb expert.

Marwan is wanted by the U.S. government, which is offering US$ 5 million for his capture.

He was previously reported to have died in a military air strike in Sulu province in 2012. (John Roson)

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Police scour the RTMI bus that was bombed in Maramag, Bukidnon, on Tuesday. (police photo)

Police scour the RTMI bus that was bombed in Maramag, Bukidnon, on Tuesday. (police photo)

Authorities are looking at terrorism and extortion as possible motives in the bus bombing that left 10 people dead and 42 others injured in Maramag, Bukidnon, on Tuesday, security officials said Wednesday.

Lieutenant General Aurelio Baladad, chief of the Armed Forces’ Eastern Mindanao Command, said investigation showed that the bomb had the “signature,” or make, similar to those assembled by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

“‘Yung lumitaw, ‘yun na nga, ang signature ng bomb is BIFF,” Baladad told reporters by phone.

Police mark the spot at the overhead baggage carrier where the bomb is believed to have been planted. (police photo)

Police mark the spot at the overhead baggage carrier where the bomb is believed to have been planted. (police photo)

Another military official, who requested anonymity, said the make of the bomb – an 81-millimeter mortar ammunition detonated with a cellphone – points to the group of one Dawtin Gendang of the BIFF.

Gendang and new “graduates” of the BIFF appeared to have carried out the attack on the Rural Transit Mindanao Inc. (RTMI) bus as “test mission,” the official told reporters.

Gendang was previously identified as a suspect in the bombing of another RTMI bus that injured four people last November 6, Inspector Jiselle Longakit, Bukidnon provincial police spokesperson, said.

The bus door after the blast. (Army photo)

The bus door after the blast. (Army photo)

The BIFF, according to the military, has links with bomb expert Abdul Basit Usman who is connected with the regional terror network Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and is wanted by both the Philippines and United States.

The group has also recently expressed support to the Middle East-based jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Tuesday’s explosion occurred inside an RTMI bus around 5:40 p.m. while it was passing through Maramag, on the way to Cagayan de Oro City.

Police said on Tuesday that the bus came from Wao, Lanao del Sur, but stated on Wednesday that it came from Banisilan, North Cotabato.

The blast happened in front of the main gate of the Central Mindanao University (CMU), shortly after the bus picked up passengers at a nearby bus stop.

The blast killed Kim Valiente, 17; Anita Santillan, 54; Marielle Achacoso, 17; Niezel Dee Gonzaga, 22; Catherine Villahermosa, Johnrey Valdesco, John Bernard Cuhanap, Jonathan Balida, Michael Buctos, and a still unidentified person. Some of them are students of CMU.

Forty-two other persons, some of whom are also CMU students, were hurt and taken to different hospitals.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, in a statement, called the bombing a “barbaric” act and called on people to help authorities identify the attackers.

“We condole with the families of the victims of this tragic incident. The DND thru the AFP is in full support and cooperation with the PNP to get to the bottom of this barbaric act,” Gazmin said.

The defense chief declined to say what angles are being looked into, stating that the DND was still waiting for results of the investigation.

Longakit said investigators are initially looking at extortion as a possible motive but have not set aside terrorism.

“We are still coordinating with the bus company on that (extortion angle),” she said, adding that terrorism has “not yet” been ruled out.

A statement released later by the provincial police said the management of RTMI “refused to give extortion fee,” but did not point to any group. (John Roson)

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Two of the Abu Sayyaf’s remaining kidnap victims, both Europeans, appeared safe despite a bloody clash between government troops and the bandit group in Talipao, Sulu, on Friday, the military commander in the province said Saturday.

Colonel Allan Arrojado, commander of the Armed Forces’ Joint Task Group Sulu, made the remark after saying that two kidnap victims – Ewold Horn of The Netherlands and Lorenzo Vinciguerra of Switzerland – were seen among Abu Sayyaf members Saturday.

Horn and Vinciguerra were spotted with heavily-armed bandits in Sitio Kan Amat, Brgy. Bagsak, Patikul, around 12 noon, Arrojado said.

The bandits, numbering about 100, were led by Abu Sayyaf top leader Radullan Sahiron, he said.

“Accordingly, some of them (Abu Sayyaf) are recuperating due to bullet wounds suffered during their firefight against AFP troops on Friday,” Arrojado said, citing field intelligence reports.

“Walang nasaktan sa mga kidnap victims,” he said, when asked if Horn and Vinciguerra had also been hurt during the fighting.

Horn and Vinciguerra, kidnapped while bird-watching in Tawi-Tawi on February 1, 2012, are among the at least nine people still held by the Abu Sayyaf.

Major Edilberto Aramponi, JTG Sulu’s civil-military operations officer, said troops did not see any of the kidnap victims during Friday’s clashes in Brgy. Bud Bunga, Talipao.

“Medyo mahirap makita dahil tinatago silang mabuti ng Abu Sayyaf,” he said.

15 dead, 58 wounded

Friday’s clash, the first “major encounter” since a renewed hunt for the Abu Sayyaf was launched in October, left 15 people dead and at least 58 others wounded.

Five soldiers, all ranked private first class, were killed. Twenty-eight others, including a young officer ranked 1st lieutenant, were hurt. All of them belong to the Army’s elite Scout Rangers.

Three of the injured are in serious condition and have been airlifted to Zamboanga City, while the rest are being treated at the station hospital in Kuta Heneral Teodulfo Bautista, Jolo, Aramponi said.

Arrojado said 10 members of the Abu Sayyaf, including sub-commander Hairullah Asbang and Sahiron’s brother-in-law Beting Jakka, were also killed while more than 30 bandits were injured.

Asbang reportedly died of bullet wounds inflicted by an MD-520 attack helicopter that was sent to support ground troops, he said.

“So far, may seven nang identified out of the 10 killed sa Abu Sayyaf. Mayroon na kaming 18 names ng more than 30 wounded sa kanila, marami pang unidentified,” Arrojado said.

Aramponi admitted that the slain Abu Sayyaf members were not recovered, though their deaths were confirmed thru intelligence operatives.

He also said there has been no evacuation of civilians because the clashes occurred far from populated areas.

Members of the Scout Rangers, Marines, and the Army’s 32nd and 35th Infantry Battalions are still in the jungles to pursue the Abu Sayyaf, Aramponi said.

More than 2,500 soldiers are presently in Sulu to run after Abu Sayyaf members, following an order by President Benigno Aquino to stop the al Qaeda-linked group’s kidnapping activities “once and for all.”

The “law enforcement operation” was launched after the bandits released two other Europeans captives – Germans Stefan Viktor Okonek and Henrike Dielen – on October 17, following an alleged payment of ransom. (John Roson)

– end –