KALAMANSIG, Sultan Kudarat — The Philippine flag is now hoisted in a 50-hectare camp used by lawless elements belonging to Ansar al-Khalifa after combatants of the Philippine Marines captured the training camp on Tuesday, a Marine official on Wednesday said.
Brig. Gen. Emmanuel Salamat, commander of the 1st Marine Brigade based in Kalamansig, Sultan Kudarat, said elements of the 6th Marine Battalion Landing Team and the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Sultan Kudarat have occupied the camp without resistance following a week-long manhunt and pursuit operations against Mohammad Jaafar Sabiwang Maguid alias Commander Tokboy in Sitio Sinapingan, Barangay Butril, Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat.
Salamat said Commander Tokboy remained at- large and believed to be hiding in the hinterlands of Palimbang and Maitum towns, both coastal towns in Sultan Kudarat.
”In due time we will get him and his men,” Salamat told reporters. “We continue our relentless campaign,” he added.
On Nov. 26, the Marines and the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) went to Sitio Sinapangan, Barangay Butril to serve the arrest warrants against Commander Tokboy for various crimes, including bombing in Gen. Santos City.
As the soldiers were approaching the village, about 40 heavily armed lawless elements opened fire on government forces at 5:30 a.m., triggering a four hour running gunbattle.
When the smoke was cleared, eight men were found dead, including suspected Indonesian bomber Ibrahim Ali, alias Hudzaifa who was earlier arrested for gun possession in Zamboanga City but later freed.
Salamat said Ali, who carries several other names, was a senior member of the Mujahideen Indonesian Timur (MIT). He was believed to be training local militants on bomb making in Palimbang mountains.
Commander Tokboy was not among the fatalities. He was believed to have fled at the height of the fire fight.
Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, 6th Infantry Division commander, told a news conference Friday that the Indonesian national was first arrested in Zamboanga City for illegal possession of firearms in 2005 but was released from detention in 2013 due to lack of merit of the case filed against him.
He said Ibrahim Ali had since been monitored to be with Commander Tokboy after his release, teaching bomb making.Pangilinan identified the other fatalities as Abdul Halil, Tatuh Sumail and Kira Sabiwang, all resident of Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat. Four others remained unidentified.
Marine forces recovered one cal. 50 sniper rifle, 20 rounds of ammunition for cal. 50, an M-16 Armalite rifle, a cal. 45 pistol, bomb making materials, ATM cards, Philhealth cards and six ISIS flags.
Pangilinan said Commander Tokboy has four standing warrants of arrest and was involved in a series of atrocities and violence in the South Cotabato area since August 2008.
He was previously apprehended in 2009 by the security forces at Maasim, Sarangani Province. However, he managed to escape from Bulantay Jail, Alabel, Sarangani after seven months of imprisonment.
He had been a fugitive for half a decade and was engaged in various crimes that included cattle rustling, extortion, highway robbery and murders.
Salamat said about 250 families have fled the village of Butril but the local governments and the Philippines Marines are attending to their needs.
Both Pangilinan and Salamat maintained that government forces are still seeking additional pieces of evidence that would directly link the lawless armed group to ISIS.
“Except from ISIS flags, no other concrete proof the group was indeed legitimate member of ISIS,” Pangilinan said.
He surmised the ISIS flags could be used by the group to show sympathy to the international terrorist group.
ISIS flags were also found in Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters camps captured by the 6th Infantry Division operating troops in Datu Saudi Ampatuan and Datu Unsay in Maguindanao early this year. The same flags were found in areas where Maguindanao bomber Basit Usman used to stay in the Liguasan marshland.
Usman was killed by combined government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) forces in Maguindanao in May.
Pangilinan lauded all the operating troops involved in the operation. PNA