Philippines Arrests 2 Suspected Militants After Bomb Attempt

Jeoffrey Maitem
Cotabato City
180409-PH-BIFF-620.jpg Members of the Muslim rebel group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) rest inside their stronghold in the southern Philippine province of Maguindanao, Aug. 16, 2011.

Philippine authorities arrested two suspected pro-Islamic State (IS) militants after they allegedly tried to blow up a security outpost in the southern province of Maguindanao, officials said Monday.

The arrests occurred after local village watchmen spotted four men planting an improvised explosive device (IED) at a ticket booth beside a government outpost in Shariff Aguak town late Friday, regional army chief Maj. Gen. Arnel Dela Vega said.

Soldiers were immediately sent to the area and captured two suspects, but two others had escaped, Dela Vega said.

He said security forces had defused the bomb.

“Our men cordoned to secure it and protect civilians,” Dela Vega said.

Officials said they believe the suspects, Esmael Abdulkarem, 44, and Boy Kamid, 52, were members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), composed of dozens of separatist fighters who splintered from the 12,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country’s main insurgent force that signed a peace deal in 2014.

The IED, which is commonly used by insurgents in the violence-wracked south, had a fragmentation grenade and a 60-mm mortar rigged to a timing device, Dela Vega said.

Capt. Arvin Encinas, the local army’s division spokesman, said that the suspects had admitted to being members of the BIFF, a militant faction that had pledged allegiance with the IS but did not fight in the southern city of Marawi, about 205 km (128 miles) north of Maguindanao province.

Another rebel group led by Abu Sayyaf commander Isnilon Hapilon, backed by Filipino and foreign fighters, engaged security forces in five months of gun battles in Marawi starting in May last year, leaving the city in ruins and killing at least 1,200 people, most of them militants.

But dozens of fighters, some believed to be foreigners, had escaped Marawi and joined with other factions, including the BIFF, according to the military.

Following the Marawi crisis, the military had recently activated its Special Operations Command, a sort of a super group that combines anti-terror units from all major security services.

“This organizational improvement will ensure that the Armed Forces of the Philippines remains responsive and adaptive to current and emerging challenges in the global security environment,” said military chief Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero.

The activation of the military’s special command center came just days after the MILF warned that it would not disarm hundreds of fighters if the Philippine Congress failed to pass an autonomy law as agreed under the peace pact.

The 12,000-strong MILF dropped its bid for self-rule to settle for an expanded autonomy when it signed a peace deal with Manila in 2014.

Mark Navales in Cotabato City contributed to this report.


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