Killers came from 3 directions

John Unson - The Philippine Star

MAMASAPANO, Maguindanao, Philippines – Death came from three directions for a band of Special Action Force (SAF) commandos as they struggled to slip out of a remote village here after killing a man believed to be Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, last Sunday.

A SAF member who survived the battle against hundreds of fighters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) said they were attacked from three directions in an open field near the hideout of Marwan and another terrorist in Barangay Tukanalipao.

The policeman, who asked not to be named, said some of his wounded companions who ran out of ammunition crawled near an irrigation dike, but rebels finished them off with rifle shots to the head.

“We ran out of ammunition so there was no way we could stop them from coming close,” the policeman.

At least two SAF teams were attacked from behind while guarding their designated alternate withdrawal route.

“There was heavy volume of fire from different directions. We were not subdued, we maneuvered for cover but the area was a plain and there was no good spot where we could position ourselves safely,” said the policeman, who asked not to be identified.

The survivor said their defense weakened when they started running out of ammunition.

“I made the sign of the cross and I asked God to forgive me for all my sins. I was ready to die then,” he said.

He said many of his companions were felled by heavy gunfire from as close as six to seven meters.

“It was very dark. The flash of gunfire from the barrels of our guns and their guns can be seen clearly because we were close to each other,” he said.

He said he crawled to a nearby swamp as firing waned and walked away at daybreak until he reached a road where policemen and soldiers helped him.

He said he noticed foreign ceasefire monitors in the scene, helping disengage rebels from Barangay Tukanalipao

Based on accounts from villagers, community leaders may have innocently alerted the MILF’s 105th Base Command to the presence of the policemen.

A barangay official in Mamasapano had told a local television outfit that he called officials of the MILF unit and told them of the presence of armed men that he thought were rebels.

He was told that the MILF had no tactical maneuver in the area.

Some community elders said they, too, had frantically alerted local Moro commanders of the activities of men in combat uniforms.

“It was dark and we can’t see the patches on their uniform from a distance. We were also scared to go out and check,” one of the village elders said.

The ensuing fighting left 44 SAF commandos killed and a dozen others injured. The MILF said it also lost 11 guerrillas in the “misencounter.”

Villagers also told stories of how BIFF fighters finished off with shots to the head no fewer than 10 wounded policemen.

“Two of the wounded policemen who were executed even managed to strap tourniquets on their legs which were hit by bullets in the initial encounter,” a villager said.

A peasant named Badrudin Nanganlan, 21, and five-year-old Sarah Sampulna Panangulon, were killed in the crossfire.

Nanganlan’s 19-year-old widow, Sarah, told reporters her husband was immediately buried in keeping with Islamic tradition.

The gunfight that lasted for more than 10 hours also left a villager, Said Pasawilan, wounded.

“Villagers were running everywhere. We heard loud automatic gunshots and explosions,” said Ahmida Muda, whose family was forced to evacuate to a safer area.

Saida Esmael, also a resident of Barangay Tukanalipao, said they tried to leave and head to the town proper as the firefight erupted, but were prevented from doing so when exchanges of gunfire intensified.

Esmael Hashim, chairman of Barangay Tukanalipao, said he noticed the arrival of the SAF men and was surprised that none of them came to see him to coordinate.

He said previous police and military operations in their barangay were properly coordinated with community leaders and the local government unit of Mamasapano.

“It was about 4:00 a.m. (Jan. 25) when we heard gunshots near the barangay Islamic center and that was the start of a long encounter,” Hashim said in Filipino.

MILF leader Al-Haj Murad and chief peace negotiator Muhaquer Iqbal said the encounter could have been avoided had the Philippine National Police coordinated its operation with the joint ceasefire committee











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