Army in hot pursuit of armed group in Lanao Sur

ILIGAN CITY —– A military official in Lanao del Sur revealed Army units are in hot pursuit of an armed group at the boundary between Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur.

Around 20 armed men and their families are on the run after combat operations against them were conducted by the Philippine Army at the boundaries of Piagapo, Lanao del Sur and Pantao Ragat, Lanao del Norte.

An abandoned temporary camp believed to have been used by recruits affiliated with the Dawlah Islamiya-Abu Sayyaf Group overran by Army troops  on October 27 at the boundary of Piagapo, Lanao del Sur and Pantao Ragat, Lanao del Norte. (Photo: 103rd Infantry Brigade)

Brig. Gen. Jose Maria Cuerpo, commander of the Army’s 103rd Infantry Brigade in Marawi City, said the armed men, identified as a new group of Dawlah Islamiya Lanao fled after elements of the 82nd Infantry Battalion overran two of their temporary camps within a kilometer of each other on October 29 in the hinterlands of Barangays Tala-o and Taporog in Piagapo.

The areas, referred to by the military as “final harbor areas” of the rebels, “are forested and are located near the trails” according to Cuerpo. “These are places where they temporary stay and sleep while running away from the military conducting combat operations.”

Cuerpo said the armed men are believed to be with their families as evidenced by used baby diapers, pantyliners and female underwear found in one of the camps.

The armed men are led by Faharodin Hadji Fatar, also known as Zacaria Abubakar, the sub-leader of the late Benito Owayda Marohombsar, also known as Abu Dar.

Abu Dar was a sub-leader during the Marawi siege of  2017. He was able to escape from the main battle ground, continued recruiting and training new members in Lanao del Sur but was neutralized by the 49th Infantry Battalion in December 2019 in Tubaran town.

“Zacaria Abubakar replaced Abu Dar as the next senior member in the group. But we learned that even if they continue recruiting, they cannot be as powerful as before,” Cuerpo said.

The awareness and  cooperation of  residents in the area is believed to have influenced the armed group not to linger in the community.

“Dili nani sila mosalig sa mga taga-Lanao del Sur. Isumbong man sila sa amoa,” Cuerpo said. (They are afraid to trust the residents in Lanao del Sur since will be reported to us.)

In fact, this group is buying their food in Lanao del Norte, passing through the boundaries in Munai town.

Cuerpo said most of the members they have now are former fighters during the Marawi siege, with the  youngest at 15 years old, whose father a former fighter who died during the armed conflict three years ago.