Manila, Philippines: Authorities Kill Nine Suspected Gangsters During Gunbattle: UPDATED

8 Apr

By OLIVER TEVES, Associated Press Oliver Teves, Associated Press :

MANILA, PhilippinesPhilippine police and soldiers trying to serve an arrest warrant have killed nine suspected members of a criminal gang who allegedly resisted and opened fire, officials said Friday.

Two police officers also were wounded in Thursday’s gunbattle on an island in Zamboanga Sibugay province in the restive south, said national police spokesman Agrimero Cruz.

Kidnappings, murders and extortion have plagued the impoverished region for decades, undermining security and development as government forces battle Muslim and communist insurgents.

Army soldiers accompanied police officers sent to arrest suspected gang leader Kamsa Asdanal on murder charges, but he and other gunmen opened fire, triggering a fierce battle on Kaliantana Island, said regional military spokesman Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang.

An electrical power box was hit during the clash, igniting a fire that razed six houses, including those where the gunmen were shooting from, Cabangbang said, adding that their remains were burned.

Asdanal and one of his sons were among those killed, Cruz said.

Asdanal’s group has been blamed for a series of violent crimes in the area.

Soldiers and police recovered seven assault rifles, a grenade launcher and a pistol from the slain gunmen, Cruz said.

Regional police operations chief Felicisimo Khu said investigators were looking into the possible involvement of Asdanal’s group in the killings Tuesday of an army officer, his wife and a government militiaman on a bus that was flagged down in the same province by a group of gunmen who later burned it.

NEWS UPDATE:

By Julie Alipala
Inquirer Mindanao
First Posted 10:53:00 04/08/2011
Filed Under: Police, Crime, Military, and insurgency

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines — (UPDATE 2) Nine suspected Moro rebel members, including their leader, were killed in four hours of heavy fighting with government forces on an island village in Zamboanga Sibugay Thursday afternoon, the military said Friday.

A military commander said the slain men belonged to the so-called Special Operations Group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, who could also have been behind Tuesday’s attack on a Rural Transit bus in Zamboanga Sibugay in which three people, including an Army major, were killed.

The claim about the attack on the bus was initially rejected by MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu as absurd.

“No MILF [member] will do that and there is no reason for the MILF to do that kind of crime. It may be a simple case of robbery hold-up and so with the kidnapping, but the MILF is not into this,” he said.

Colonel Santiago Baluyot, commander of the Army’s 102nd Infantry Brigade, identified one of the fatalities in Thursday’s clash as Kamsa Asdanal.

He said Asdanal’s group belonged to the so-called MILF-SOG.

Baluyot said Asdanal’s group was “known for extortion and kidnapping.”

Another military official, Brigadier General Noel Coballes of the Army’s 1st Infantry Division, said Asdanal was “a very notorious pirate leader and commander of an extortionist group operating in Zamboanga peninsula areas.”

Among the kidnapping cases blamed on the group, Baluyot said, was the December abduction of nurse Mary Chris Cuartocruz here. Cuartocrus was freed in February.

Zamboanga Sibugay police director Senior Superintendent Ruben Cariaga Sr. said Thursday’s clash on Kaliantana Island off the town of Naga started 2 p.m. and lasted until early evening.

He said policemen were trying to serve a court warrant for the arrest of Asdanal when they were greeted by heavy gunfire.

“Unfortunately, Asdanal’s group resisted and engaged the police [in a firefight] that led to the wounding of [Senior Inspector Filmore] Dumagat and PO1 [Police Officer 1] Jesus Dumadaog,” he said.

Cariaga said he immediately sought the support of Baluyot’s unit, which is under Coballes’ command.

Coballes said the military did not have to use aerial strike. “Our troops cordoned off the area,” he said.

Baluyot said the police “had a hard time neutralizing Asdanal because his house is not a typical ordinary house.”

“It’s some kind of a fortress with an arsenal,” he added.

Coballes said some houses caught fire during the battle but the cause was unclear.

But Lieutenant Colonel Randolph Cabangbang, spokesman of the Western Mindanao Command, said that while the firefight was going on, “an electric power box was hit, causing a short circuit that eventually led to a conflagration.”

Baluyot said that according to a report he received from the field, the cadavers of nine men—including Asdanal’s—had been recovered along with high-powered firearms.

“The police are still conducting follow-up operations,” he said by text message.

Baluyot said aside from kidnapping, Asdanal’s group could also have been involved in recent bus attacks in the province, including Tuesday’s incident in Tungawan, Zamboanga Sibugay.

Western Mindanao Command chief Lieutenant General Raymundo Ferrer told reporters here that the military had already identified those behind the bus attack.

Cabangbang said the military has been able to establish the involvement of some members of the MILF in illegal activities in the Zamboanga peninsula “based on information from the victims.”

“We receive information on the identities of the perpetrators and some of them are MILF members, so this has been coordinated with the AHJAG (Adhoc Joint Action Group) so we can conduct law enforcement operations in the MILF declared areas,” Cabangbang said.

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