Another ‘Marawi’ foiled in Cotabato

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THE military foiled a plan by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters to launch a Marawi-like siege on Cotabato City, a security official who spoke on condition of anonymity said Sunday.

“The BIFF was able to mobilize maybe about 200 men plus more than 100 men from different private and criminal armed groups to launch a siege in Cotabato City. But they could not cross military lines so they just terrorized communities in Pigcawayan, North Cotabato,” a military commander based in Central Mindanao said.

The senior officer asked to go unnamed because he was not authorized to speak on the matter.

On June 21, BIFF rebels attacked a school in Barangay Malagakit and took civilian hostages and used them as human shields when the military and police responded to the attack. The gunmen also shot dead a militiaman and destroyed a Christian church before they fled.

The military quickly dismissed speculation that the attack was a spillover from Marawi City, but said it could have been a diversionary tactic to distract the military in Marawi.

The BIFF, founded by the late Ameril Umbra Kato, was known for its alliance with local terrorists groups such as the Abu Sayyaf and Maute groups. The government had also declared the BIFF a terrorist group for coddling foreign terrorists and for supporting the Islamic State.

Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters. AFP file photo

Based on an intelligence report, a copy of which was obtained by Manila Standard, the BIFF was among “other possible threat groups” that could conduct terrorist acts in some parts of Central Mindanao while government forces were focused on defeating the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups in Marawi.

“The BIFF’s plans will be mostly launched in Maguindanao and Cotabato City,” the report said.

A total of seven improvised explosive devices made of 60mm mortar shells with handheld radios as detonators were already transported to the city more than a week before the Marawi siege.

“These IEDs were manufactured during the second week of May,” the report said.

It added that the BIFF plan was in response to President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao; to support the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups’ siege in Marawi; and retaliation for military operations during the past months.

The military might have foiled a Cotabato City siege but it is closely monitoring the deployment of some BIFF elements in the Davao region.

“The monitored presence of BIFF elements in Davao region suggests that they could have established networks in the area as well as focused their activities on trainings to enhance their military capabilities,” the source said.

The military was doing everything to avert “test mission bombings” after these BIFF training and surveillance activities.

It said key cities, including Davao, are “probable targets” of these terror acts.

Sources said a BIFF plan to conduct a series of bombings in Davao City last February was averted.

They said BIFF members conducted training on casing, surveillance and counter-surveillance for 28 people.

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