FOILED RESCUE BID?
POLICE OFFICER, MAN WITH ABU SAYYAF LINK ARRESTED IN CLARIN
CLARIN, Bohol – A Mindanao-based female ranking police officer, suspected of plotting a rescue of Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) members on the run in this town, was arrested by government troops yesterday in the company of a wanted person with links to the dreaded extremist group.
The female police officer, Supt. Maria Cristina Nobleza and her driver-companion, Renierlo Dongon, were detained on Saturday evening at the municipal police station of Clarin and transferred on Sunday afternoon to the Bohol Provincial Police Office headquarters in Tagbilaran City for questioning on suspicion that they came to rescue the remaining Abu Sayyaf members being hunted by government troops.
Prior to their arrest, the military has received an intelligence report of a plot to rescue the ASG members in Bohol, in particular, one of them is said to be a son of a Sultan.
The information did not however say who would conduct the rescue, according to law enforcement sources who asked not to be named for lack of authority to speak to the media.
The two, on board a black Nissan Navara, tried to drive past a police checkpoint in Clarin at past 8 p.m. on Saturday, about the same time when police and military teams were pursuing members of the bandit group and later killed three of them.
Nobleza, deputy regional chief of the Philippine National Police Crime Laboratory in Region 11 (Davao Region), claimed they were in Clarin on a “tour” and just happened to be passing by the area near the clash site, the sources said.
But investigators did not buy her claim after they recovered her cellular phone and saw a text message purportedly from one of the Abu Sayyaf members, begging to be rescued.
Upon inspection on Sunday night of the Nissan Navara, a police bomb disposal unit also found in Nobleza’s vehicle, a police-issued firearm with two magazines, several bottles of energy drinks, boxes of chocolates and soda crackers, a number of canned goods, T-shirts, briefs, short pants, a car battery, ropes, snorkels, googles, medicine kits, and diving gears.
Their arrest came just as joint police and military forces continue to scour the mountain villages of Clarin to search for the remaining Abu Sayyaf members, now believed to be just numbering to three.
State forces originally said there were eight Abu Sayyaf bandits who had fled from the government siege in Inabanga town last April 11 but authorities were able to confirm yesterday that only seven had escaped, four of whom were killed on Saturday, including Boholano Abu Sayyaf member Joselito Melloria.
Janjalani’s brother in law
Dongon, who carried the alias “Kudri,” is said to be a brother-in-law of Khadaffy Abubakar Janjalani, the founding leader of Abu Sayyaf who was killed in September 2006, according to information provided to Cebu Daily News by an intelligence source.
Dongon also has a pending arrest warrant issued by a regional trial court in Cagayan de Oro City for a double murder case, the source added.
Nobleza was with an elderly woman and a teenager on board the SUV driven by Dongon when flagged down by government troops in Barangay Bacani. The sources did not say what happen to their two companions.
Government troops had locked down parts of Barangay Bacani amid a raging gunbattle between government troops and the remaining Abu Sayyaf members who had escaped the government’s dragnet in Inabanga on April 11.
The pursuing government forces killed four Abu Sayyaf members, including Joselito Melloria, a native of Barangay Napo in adjacent Inabanga town who carried the alias Abu Alih and assumed the leadership of the remaining bandits as they fled from the April 11 siege in Napo that left at least four of his comrades, including their leader Abu Rami, dead.
The telling text
At about 9 p.m. on Saturday, a black Nissan Navara pickup drove past a police checkpoint in Barangay Bacani, prompting soldiers to chase the vehicle.
The chase ended in Sitio Kabasakan, still in Bacani, which was just about 150 meters away from the cave that had served as the hideout of the remaining Abu Sayyaf members.
While at the police station, Nobleza went to the toilet, pretending to urinate but to actually get rid of her cellular phone, according to the police official who was privy to the interrogation but was not authorized to give a statement to the media.
The cellular phone was later recovered inside the toilet but without the sim card. The sim card was later found outside the toilet by a K-9 dog.
Based on the text messages on the sim card, it appeared that Nobleza was communicating with the remaining Abu Sayyaf members in Clarin who were asking to be rescued.
When interrogated, Nobleza continued to insist she was on a tour in Bohol and happened to just pass by Clarin, according to a source.
She did not respond to other questions except to say, “I invoke my right to privacy,” the source added.
This developed as government troops expanded their search for the three remaining ASG members to cover both Clarin and Inabanga towns, according to Police Regional Office director in Central Visayas (PRO-7) chief Supt. Noli Taliño, who was in Clarin yesterday to be briefed on the pursuit operation.
It was earlier reported that the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) were looking for other four ASG members after the death of four yesterday, including Joselito Melloria.
However, Capt. Jojo Mascariñas, spokesperson of the Philippine Army’s 302nd brigade leading the pursuit, said their intelligence report had confirmed there are now only three left of the about a dozen ASG members who came to Bohol on April 10.
“Hindi naman specific na 8 sila. It’s just more or less 8. And based on our intel reports tatlo na lang.
(It was not specified that they were eight. It’s just more or less eight. And based on our intel reports, there were only three left),” Mascariñas said.
Mascariñas said there where witnesses who saw the remaining three ASG bandits and only one of them was armed.
Mascariñas said it would now be easier to search for these men since only one is armed.
Also, he said, the remaining ASG members would not have difficulty getting from around since they are not familiar with Bohol and had lost their guide, Joselito Melloria, a Boholano from Inabanga town who became a member of Abu Sayyaf and who was killed early on Saturday following a firefight with government troops in Barangay Bacani of this town.
At 11 a.m. on Sunday, the troops received an information about two armed men sighted along in a highway near Clarin but it turned out to be false, said Mascariñas.
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