Evacuees fear more hostilities after rebel leader's arrest

John Unson (The Philippine Star) - March 17, 2015 - 4:58pm

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines - Local folks are worried of an outbreak of hostilities between followers of arrested terrorist Mohammad Tambako and members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that reportedly provided authorities information that led to his arrest. 

Tambako, who founded last December the Justice for Islamic Movement (JIM) helped Imam Ameril Ombra Kato establish the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in early 2010. He was arrested in Gen. Santos City Sunday night by combined Army and police operatives with the help of confidential informants.

Moro peasants, whose families are in evacuation sites in Maguindanao’s adjoining Mamasapano and Sharif Saidona towns, said certain MILF commanders known to them helped authorities locate the whereabouts of Tambako, who had eluded Army and Marine combatants searching for him in the province since March 1.

Two Marines and four Army personnel, among them a captain in an elite Ranger Unit, and dozens of combined BIFF and JIM members were killed in one encounter since the hunt for Tambako and other rouge Moro commanders was launched in five Maguindanao towns .

The hostilities had caused the dislocation of 123,537 villagers, mostly women and children, now being fed in relief centers by the Humanitarian Emergency Assistance and Response Team of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and the office of Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu.

“We can’t return to our villages because there are talks about plans by followers of Tambako and the BIFF to get even with people in the MILF that provided authorities essential information that led to his arrest,” a 45-year-old farmer, Bansil, said in the Maguindanaon vernacular.

Another evacuee, who asked not to be identified for security reasons, said an MILF official, who was arrested almost two years ago in Cotabato City in connection with an old criminal case, provided information that resulted to Tambako’s arrest in Gen. Santos City.

Four companions of Tambako were also nabbed while a fifth suspect, the tricycle driver they hired to take them to the Gen. Santos City wharf, was set free several hours later after investigators found no link between him and group.

Tambako and his companions were intercepted by government operatives in Barangay Calumpang in northeast of Gen. Santos City, while on board a tricycle, en route to the port.

Tambako and his followers are feared for their notoriety in dealing with adversaries.

He is known for his deep-seated animosity toward non-Muslims, including members of Maguindanao’s non-Muslim indigenous Teduray and Teduray-Lambangian groups.

“His men now know who helped find him in Gen. Santos City. We can see trouble between them this early," an evacuee named Sapia, a mother of four, said.

Tambako, who had studied Islamic theology in Arabic schools abroad, was implicated in more than a dozen recent bombings in Central Mindanao, including four attacks in North Cotabato in late 2014 that left a total of eight people dead and injured more than 50 others.

Tambako and other rogue Moro commanders provided sanctuary to slain Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, most known as Marwan, in the impoverished Mamasapano municipality, where he got killed in a police raid on January 25.

At least 44 of the more than 80 Special Action Force commandos that carried out the January 25 operation that resulted to Marwan’s death perished in separate encounters with MILF guerillas and BIFF members while they were maneuvering their way out from the area.

Tambako, a native of Barangay Libutan, also in Mamasapano, escaped from his hideout in Barangay Dasikil in southwest of the municipality two weeks ago, just as battle hardened combatants of the 36th and 26th Marine Companies came close, apparently to neutralize his group.

The Marines hoisted at noontime on March 2 the Philippine flag at the center of the guerilla camp, where Tambako and his men trained recruits and assembled powerful improvised bombs used in recent bombings in Central Mindanao.

Government forces that took over the camp found materials for roadside bombs and lists of potential bombing targets, which included commercial establishments, buses, public terminals and markets, in one of the huts in the surroundings.

Barangay officials said the elusive Maguindanaon bomb maker Abdul Basit Usman, also wanted for deadly bombings in Mindanao, had trained recruits in Barangay Dasikil with the help of Tambako.

Usman was said to have undergone training in fabrication of improvised explosive devices in Peshawar, Pakistan and in Kandahar, Afganistan, during the early 1990s.

Evacuees said the police and military would not know of Tambako’s presence in Gen. Santos City if not for the help of local officials and barangay leaders in Mamasapano too.

“Surely the BIFF and the followers of Tambako will retaliate. That would be a big problem for us, the innocent people that can be affected by hostilities among them,” farmer Kamarudin, 52, said in local dialect.

Tambako and his four aides are now detained at the national headquarters of the Philippine National Police in Quezon City, undergoing tactical interrogation.

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