Philippine authorities have captured a high-ranking leader of a key splinter militant group, a military spokesman confirmed Wednesday.
According to Maj. Filemon Tan, the spokesperson for the Philippine military’s Western Mindanao Command, Hassan Indal alias Abu Hazam, the vice-chairman for internal affairs of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM) and the 4th division commander of its armed wing, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), was arrested in his hideout in the village of Kalanganan, west of Cotabato City late Tuesday. His son, Ali Indal, also a BIFF member, was killed during the raid after resisting arrest.
Though Indal was initially declared dead by Philippine military officials back in early 2014, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Brig. Gen. Resituto Padilla said officials are certain this time of his arrest since he had been identified by locals. The raid that led to Indal’s arrest was a joint operation of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, the Army’s 5th Special Forces Battalion, the 601st Brigade and intelligence units of the 6th Infantry Division. Military officials said local villagers had helped in locating him.
Indal’s arrest comes amid ongoing skirmishes between the Philippine security forces and the BIFF, a breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) which is the largest Muslim rebel group in the country’s south now engaged in a peace process with Manila. Security forces had initially been engaged by BIFF gunmen in Datu Salibu, Maguindanao late last Friday as they were defusing three improvised explosive devices planted near a government infrastructure project.
Major General Edmundo Pangilian, the commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, averred that Indal may have been hiding in Cotabato to avoid the ongoing fighting. But BIFF spokesman Abu Misri Mama said instead that the ranking rebel leader, who has been suffering from diabetes, was merely in the city to seek medical attention.
During the raid, which took place close to midnight local time, security forces also recovered a loaded M-16 assault rifle, a .45 caliber pistol and a fragmentation grenade. Indal, who is wanted for a string of criminal offenses, has reportedly been turned over to the CDIG office in Cotabato City.
“This is an accomplishment not only of the security forces but of the entire community because Indal was one of the BIFF leaders who continually sowed terror among civilians by planting improvised bombs in public places,” Pangilian said.