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COTABATO CITY, Philippines – The military launched air strikes and ground assaults on Tuesday, May 2, against a suspected lair of Dawlah Islamiyah militants in Datu Piang, Maguindanao del Sur, who allegedly planned to launch a fresh wave of terror attacks in Mindanao.
Villagers in Barangay Magaslong, Datu Piang, Maguindanao del Sur, and nearby villages were awakened by the strong rumbling sounds of attack helicopters and fighter jets after government troops launched a dawn offensive against the group.
The military said the assault operations were also a part of the ongoing manhunt operation against the terrorist group behind the April 17 bombing of a bus in Sultan Kudarat province.
“This is a follow-up operation against those behind the Isulan bus bombing,” said Brigadier General Oriel Pangcog, commander of the Army’s 601st Infantry Brigade.
Pangcog said military intelligence operatives monitored the movement of the group and established that they were planning again to launch new terror attacks.
“We received information that they met at the target place so we carried out this operation,” Pangcog said.
Pangcog said the area is far from the civilian populace, and there was no evacuation of civilians.
The air strikes were followed by artillery attacks using 105 howitzers.
He said clearing operations by ground troops were ongoing following the pre-dawn strike.
“We could not say yet if there were casualties,” he said.
Major General Alex Rillera, commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division and the Joint Task Force Central, said the group has been under surveillance even before the bombing in Isulan, Sultan Kudarat.
The group, he said, was monitored along the boundaries of Pagalungan and Datu Montawal in Maguindanao del Sur, and Pikit town in Cotabato province.
Rillera said an earlier military operation resulted in the discovery of several improvised bombs in a temporary Dawlah Islamiyah encampment in the area.
He said a subsequent military operation led to the killing of a suspected member of the Dawlah Islamiyah and the capture of another.
“It’s not every day that they can escape. We will get them one by one,” Rillera said.
Mellan Sayutin, a women’s and children’s rights advocate for a Moro civil society group who lives in the nearby town of Datu Saudi Ampatuan, said many of the villagers have not recovered yet from armed clashes involving members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
“Imagine, we were awakened again by the loud and disturbing sounds. How can our children grow healthy in this environment? What will happen to us? We have not recovered from our recent losses yet?” she lamented. – Rappler.com
Ferdinandh Cabrera is an Aries Rufo Journalism fellow.