Philippine security forces raided a southern bomb factory over the weekend, arresting five suspected Filipino Muslim militants and thwarting a potential wave of bomb attacks, the military said Monday.
The raid Saturday on a hideout in Paglat, a town in Maguindanao province, led to the discovery of a factory where the suspects were producing bombs, military commander Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said, adding that an informant had pointed military intelligence to the area.
“Our informant showed us pictures of terrorist bombers as they detonated a bomb to test its lethality. We had been tracking the suspects since November 2018,” Cabunoc said.
Those arrested were connected to the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a Muslim rebel faction that broke away from the larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to continue fighting for independence in the south, according to officials.
Cabunoc said two companions of the suspects, Abu Jihad and Ustadz Yasser, both bomb experts, managed to elude arrest hours before troops arrived at the scene.
The military official said four “anti-personnel mines,” other bomb-making components and three handguns were seized from the suspects.
The MILF signed a peace deal with Manila four years ago that led to the government signing a law last year granting Muslims in the south expanded regional autonomy. A plebiscite is to take place next week to ratify the law.
The Jan. 21 plebiscite on the Bangsamoro Organic Law is to take place in the predominantly Muslim provinces of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur. It will also include six towns in Lanao del Norte and the cities of Cotabato and Isabela in Basilan.
On New Year’s Eve, two people were killed and a dozen others were wounded when a bomb exploded outside a shopping mall in Cotabato city, where a majority of local officials had publicly campaigned against inclusion in the expanded autonomy. Two suspects including one who voluntarily surrendered to authorities have been charged.
In August and September 2017, two explosions hit the town of Isulan in Sultan Kudarat, leaving five dead and more than 50 people wounded.
Earlier, at least 11 people were killed and several others wounded when a van carrying explosives exploded in July 2017 near a checkpoint outside Basilan island city of Lamitan. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for that attack, but the military denied its claim.