Army detachment in Zamboanga del Norte attacked, 130 residents evacuated
ZAMBOANGA DEL NORTE, Philippines – At least 130 civilians have evacuated to the government gymnasium in Sirawai town proper, some 300 kilometers west of Dipolog City, after heavily armed men attacked a detachment of the Army's 42nd Infantry Battalion (42IB) in Barangay San Vicente at around 5:00 pm on Tuesday, January 3.
Pursuing soldiers from the 42IB and policemen from the 9th Regional Police Security Battalion and Zamboanga del Norte Police Security Company were still engaged in a running gun battle with the attackers at dawn on January 4.
By mid-morning, Police Chief Inspector Charisse Yabo, Zamboanga del Norte Police Provincial Office (ZNPPO) spokesperson, told Rappler that Army and police forces had already begun clearing operations.
Police Senior Superintendent Edwin B. Wagan, Zamboanga del Norte Police Provincial Director, said that undetermined number of attackers using high powered firearms opened fire at the detachment manned by about 14 Army soldiers.
Wagan said in a report that the soldiers returned fire and defended their position. Sensing that reinforcements from nearby 42IB main camp and policemen were coming, the attackers – identified as members of Yusop Jamaa and Yacob Isnain groups and under the command of a certain Hadji Katin – withdrew towards Barangay Sipakit.
Authorities believe the attackers were rogue members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
There were no reported injuries or deaths on both sides.
Sirawai is part of the Zamboanga del Norte's "triple SB (towns of Sirawai, Sibuco, Siocon and Baliguian) area" where the MILF has maintained a camp with a batallion-size fighters.
Other bandit and kidnap-for-ransom groups also operate in "triple SB area." It is also a favorite escape location for lawless groups from Sulu and Basilan because of its dense forests and, authorities said, its largely sympathetic population.
In 2002, Abu Sayyaf group brought to "triple SB area" their hostages Martin and Grecia Burnham to evade pursuing military units. Army Scout Rangers eventually engaged with the kidnappers, but Martin was hit and died in the firefight while Grecia was wounded in the leg. – Rappler.com