MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – President Benigno Aquino III on Thursday, August 8, said government is eyeing 3 groups behind the spate of attacks in central and northern Mindanao.
“Basically, there are threat groups that have joined together because maybe, to a large degree, their individual capacities have decreased. These 3 groups we’re looking at were not as strong but they seem to have come together or are exerting serious effort because they are quite desperate to stop the peace process here in Mindanao,” Aquino told reporters on the sidelines of a business summit in Davao City.
The President didn’t elaborate, although three groups operating in the Mindanao have worked against the peace process: a breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Abu Sayyaf and remnants of the group once known as Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).
JI’s leaders in the Philippines are the two most wanted terrorists in Southeast Asia – Malaysian Marwan and Singaporean Muawiyah. Marwan is an alias used by Zulkifli bin Hir; Muawiyah is the pseudonym of Mohammed Ali. They were the targets of the first joint US-Philippine smart bomb attack in Sulu on February 2, 2012. That attack killed a key Abu Sayyaf leader, but the two foreigners escaped to central Mindanao and found sanctuary in territory controlled by the BIFF.
Aquino also shared a theory the government is looking at to explain the recent violence in the region.
“We’re looking at all possible angles. Among them, there was an encounter recently between the BIFF (Bangsamoro Freedom Fighters) and the Armed Forces and there is a theory that all of these bombings are related to that to lessen the pressure of ongoing follow-up operations against these BIFF elements that attacked North Cotabato,” he said.
In a speech earlier that day, Aquino vowed to fight back.
“Make no mistake about it: This is a desperate act by a small sector dead set against the attainment of peace in Mindanao,” he said.
“For a long time, we have been working to neutralize these elements; and this is a fight in which we have had quite a few successes,” he added. “And so our continuing message is this: To those willing to partner with us for peace, we welcome you as brothers; but to those who want to challenge the authority of the State, you will feel the full brunt, depth, and might of the State’s response. You will not get in the way of the peace and the stability that will help fulfill the potential of Mindanao.”
On Thursday morning, one soldier was killed while 4 others were wounded in a dawn encounter in Albarka, Basilan.
On Wednesday, 3 bombs exploded in different areas in Maguindanao and North Cotabato. One of the attacks, a roadside bomb, wounded 7 Army soldiers.
In a radio interview, Defense Secertary Voltaire Gazmin said the military doesn’t have any information that could link the attacks to the global Al Qaeda threats raised by Western governments this week.
“We do not see a connection. But we are not ruling out that information. We are studying it carefully,” he said in a radio interview.
“We are looking at various angles. One is terrorism. Second, this may be political or personal. We’re also looking at bombers for hire and bombers for sale. We are looking at all these angles. We don’t have a conclusive report yet,” Gazmin said.
He called on Filipinos to stay vigilant. “This is not just the job of the police. It’s not just the problem of our soldiers. This is a problem of all Filipinos. We all have to work together to deter these terroristic acts.”
Aquino acknowledged that despite the peace process between the government and the MILF “challenges to our stability…exist.” He cited the July 26 blast in Cagayan de Oro City that killed 8 people.
The government and the MILF in July signed a crucial annex on wealth sharing in talks in Kuala Lumpur. Both sides expect to hammer out a final agreement before the end of the year.
The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a breakaway group of the MILF, claimed responsibility for the Maguindanao roadside bombing.
Military intelligence said that the ASG and some MILF units have joined forces in Al-Barka, Basilan. – Rappler.com
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