COTABATO CITY, Philippines – Authorities said the weekend ambush that claimed the life of a Marine and wounded three others was likely a retaliatory attack carried out by extremist radicals in Lanao del Sur.
The surprise attack, which took place in the village of Cabasaran in Morogong town on Saturday, February 4, has sparked outrage and concern as the authorities vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice.
The soldiers were traveling through Barangay Cabasaran on motorcycles when they were ambushed, an attack that highlighted again the ongoing challenge of tackling extremism in the Bangsamoro province, and the need for increased efforts to ensure the safety and security in Lanao del Sur.
Officials said Marine Sergeant Tonti Melbert Pamaran was killed in action while Corporal Mark Anthony Bañares, Sergeant Jeram Aradji, and Sergeant Joan Aniñon were wounded. All the victims were working as intelligence operatives of the Marine Battalion Landing Team 2.
According to Lieutenant Colonel Sergio Reyes Ronquillo, the commander of the Marine battalion, the soldiers were caught off guard, not in uniform and armed only with caliber .45 pistols, which they bravely used to defend themselves and hold the line until reinforcement arrived.
In a frantic race against time, the wounded soldiers were rushed to a nearby hospital by the responding Morogong police, where they now receive medical attention.
Authorities said the extremists, about 30 of them in camouflage uniforms, were armed with weapons such as 5.56mm and M-16 rifles.
The authorities, determined to bring the perpetrators to justice, have launched a full investigation into the attack.
Investigators said they were convinced that the ambush was in response to the disruption of the extremists’ attempt to fully set up a training camp in the same area.
In December 2022, soldiers from the Army’s 6th Division and 1st Marine Brigade prevented the group from establishing a training camp and bomb-making facility.
The military said the same group was attempting to recruit new members at that time, prompting an air and ground operation, but the extremists managed to evade capture before the troops discovered their training camp, which was only a few weeks old.
The military said the group was taking orders from Faharuddin Hadjisatar, also known as Abu Zacariah, who serves as the new ISIS emir in Southeast Asia.
Zacariah leads the remnants of the Dawlah Islamiya-Maute group and has been actively recruiting new members.
Zacariah succeeded Owaida Marohombsar, also known as Abu Dar, the former leader of the DI-Maute group who was killed in March 2019.
Zacariah was a trusted lieutenant of Omar Maute, one of the leaders of the Marawi Siege that took place from May to October 2017, resulting in over 1,200 deaths and the destruction of the predominantly Muslim city.
Major Alvison Mustapha, the spokesperson of the Lanao del Sur police, said a complaint was being prepared against Zacariah, who already has several arrest warrants for various cases.
Brigadier General John Guyguyon, police director of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), has ordered the Marogong police and the Lanao del Sur police to intensify their manhunt operation against the militants. – Rappler.com
Ferdinandh Cabrera is an Aries Rufo Journalism fellow.
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