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MARAWI, Philippines –The suspected mastermind behind the December 3, 2023 bomb attack during a Catholic Mass at the state-run Mindanao State University (MSU) managed to escape, along with several other Dawlah Islamiyah militants, during a military operation that killed nine alleged terrorists in Lanao del Sur last week.
The military, however, confirmed on Monday, January 29, that the alleged maker of the bomb, which killed four Catholic mass-goers and injured 72 others at the MSU Ali Dimaporo gym last month, was among the Dawlah Islamiyah members killed during a fierce encounter in Tapurog, Piagapo, Lanao del Sur, on Thursday, January 25.
Brigadier General Yegor Rey Barroquillo, commander of the Army’s 103rd Infantry Brigade, confirmed that the alleged bomber Saumay Saiden, also known as Abu Omar, was killed during the Piagapo clashes.
Barroquillo also said at least two other militants, who were involved in the MSU bombing, were among those killed in Lanao del Sur last week. He identified one as Abdul Hadi, who allegedly assembled the explosive device used in the MSU bombing, and a certain Salman.
The military said the manhunt is ongoing for Kadapi Membesa or Khadafi Mimbesa, also known as “Engineer,” and at least five other suspected terrorists managed to flee.
Mimbesa was earlier reported, based on an initial report from the Army’s 1st Infantry Division, as one of the nine alleged Dawlah Islamiyah-Maute Group members killed during the two days of military operation in Piagapo town.
“Former militants have identified Saiden, and various intelligence sources confirmed the body was his,” Barroquillo said as he showed reporters a photograph of the dead Saiden on Monday.
Barroquillo said CCTV footage showed Saiden at the MSU gym shortly before the explosion that cut short the ongoing Mass. Based on the footage, he said, it was Saiden who planted the bomb before the Mass started.
“Justice has been served for the victims of the MSU bombing. This military operation should somehow provide solace to the families who suffered,” said Major General Gabriel Viray III, commander of the 1st Army Division.
The military said the operation involved a battalion of Army scout rangers in coordination with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and followed the mechanisms of the peace process between the government and the former rebel group.
Bangsamoro parliament member Abdullah Makapaar, also known as MILF commander Bravo, said he ordered their mujahideen (Islamic fighters) to stand down to allow the troops to pass and attack the militants who were hiding at a nipa hut near an MILF camp.
“I also ordered my men to arrest Dawlah Islamiyah members if they seek refuge in our camps,” Makapaar told reporters in Marawi City on Monday.
He said he was currently working to facilitate the surrender of a wounded Dawlah Islamiyah member who sent surrender feelers to him.
Makapaar did not identify the wounded militant but confirmed that the suspect was among the six terrorists who managed to escape during the encounters in Barangay Tapurog last week.
Barroquillo said soldiers immediately carried out the military offensive against the group of about 15 Dawlah Islamiyah militants hiding in Barangay Tapurog.
“We launched our attack at around 4 pm [on January 25] and stopped during the night. The following morning, we attacked again,” Barroquillo said.
He said a total of three firefights were initiated by the Scout rangers, including a sniper team, against the militants. – Rappler.com