BIFF threatens more attacks
John Unson (Philstar.com) - December 25, 2015 - 10:05pm

COTABATO CITY, Philippines - The outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) on Saturday warned of more attacks after a three-day rampage that left eight innocent people dead in response to government’s crackdown on local jihadist factions.

Four BIFF members were confirmed killed in its incursions, met with heavy resistance from soldiers and armed villagers.

Abu Misry Mama, BIFF spokesperson, said their harassment of peasant enclaves and military detachments in Central Mindanao the past three days were also meant to show their continuing opposition to the presence of state forces in Moro-dominated areas in the region, now a hotbed of Islamic militancy.

Authorities are still trying to figure out if the BIFF was behind the bombing Thursday night of two more power relay pylons of the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP), one in Gandamatu in Ramain town in Lanao Del Sur and the other in Barangay Aroman in Carmen, North Cotabato.

An NGCP spokesperson, Melfrance Capulong, said still unidentified bombers first toppled down their Tower 25 in Ramain using home-made explosives at past 10:00 p.m. on Christmas eve.

Capulong said another group destroyed about 20 minutes later NGCP’s Tower 95 in Carmen using improvised explosive devices.

The two towers carry high tension power transmission cables that connect dozens of towns in Central Mindanao to state-run hydroelectric plants in Lanao del Sur and in Bukidnon provinces.

Bombers have destroyed more than ten NGCP towers in North Cotabato and Maguindanao in one attack after another in the past eight months.

Mama told reporters the attacks BIFF forces pulled off in the adjoining provinces of Maguindanao, North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat from between Wednesday until Friday dawn was to disprove assertions they have been weakened tactically by military offensives early this year.

ISIS-inspired groups

BIFF commanders had said their deadly maneuvers this week were partly in retaliation for recent government offensives against Mindanao-based jihadist groups sympathetic to the Independent State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Eight young members of a local Islamist group displaying the iconic black ISIS flag in their hideout in Barangay Butril in Palimbang town in Sultan Kudarat were killed by pursing combatants of the 1st Marine Brigade last month in an operation initiated on the behest of local folks threatened by their presence.

The Al-Qaeda-linked and now confessed ISIS-inspired Abu Sayyaf also suffered fatalities in a military offensive in Albarka town in Basilan more than a week ago, which resulted to the government’s takeover of its enclave in the municipality.

BIFF leaders have overtly been expressing allegiance to ISIS whenever they talk to journalists.

A barangay councilor was the last fatality, from among eight, in the BIFF’s three-day rampage in Central Mindanao this week.

The victim, Robert Latosa, an incumbent barangay councilor in Simsiman in Pigcawayan town in North Cotabato, was killed when BIFF gunmen shot his house with a 40 millimeter shoulder-fire grenade Thursday night.

Another group of BIFF bandits also opened fire on a Catholic chapel in nearby Barangay Malagakit in the same town several minutes later.

The shooting frenzy sent worshipers running for their lives and caused panic among villagers preparing for their traditional Noche Buena celebration.

BIFF bandits also fired automatic weapons at a detachment of an Army mechanized unit in Datu Saudi, Maguindanao just as soldiers and armed villagers in Barangay Malagakit were trading shots with the group that attempted to intrude into their villages.

More attacks expected

The police and military are both anticipating more incursions by the BIFF in other parts of Central Mindanao.

Highly-placed Army intelligence sources had told The STAR military units are now closely monitoring isolated barangays in Midsayap and Aleosan towns, both in North Cotabato, due to mounting threats of attacks.

Army officials in the two towns have confirmed receiving text messages from beleaguered barangay officials, warning of possible BIFF attacks soon in retaliation for the deaths of four bandits in an encounter with soldiers last Thursday in Datu Abdullah Sangki town in Maguindanao.

The Army’s 602nd Brigade and its component battalions in North Cotabato have enlisted the help of local officials and religious leaders in Aleosan and Midsayap in guarding against movements of the BIFF in the two towns.

BIFF gunmen attacked a detachment of the Army’s 33rd Infantry Battalion (IB) in Datu Abdullah Sangki before dawn Thursday, provoking a firefight that lasted for more than an hour.

Another group of bandits also harassed an hour later a peasant enclave in nearby Ampatuan town, also in Maguindanao, killing five unarmed farmers on their way to their farms.

The bandits appeared from one side of the road and opened fire at the victims, who were carrying knapsack sprayers and farming tools.

About 30 minutes later, BIFF bandits shot dead two more farmers in a secluded barangay in Esperanza town in Sultan Kudarat province, not far from where the five farmers were killed haplessly.

The commanding officer of the 33rd IB, Lt. Col. Ricky Bunayog, and local officials in Datu Abdullah Sangki said villagers saw fleeing bandits carry four dead companions as they fled after attacking a military detachment in west of the municipality just before sunrise Thursday.

Three BIFF bandits, initially identified only as Salik, Tato and Tangan, were shot and wounded by responding soldiers from nearby detachments also in Datu Abdullah Sangki.

BANDITS BARANGAY BARANGAY MALAGAKIT BIFF CENTRAL MINDANAO DATU ABDULLAH SANGKI MAGUINDANAO NBSP NORTH COTABATO SULTAN KUDARAT TOWN
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