BASILAN - The Armed Forces of the Philippines recovered several bomb components in one of the houses of an Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) leader in Barangay Tuburan Proper in Mohammad Ajul, Basilan.
The bomb components include metal pipes, LPG tanks, battery, electrical wires, cellphones and other materials.
There were also some empty boxes of hand-held radios and battery chargers.
Lieutenant General Rustico Guerero, chief of the Western Mindanao Command, said the bomb components were recovered in the house of Abbas Alam, one of the ASG sub-leaders in Basilan.
Alam is a native of Mohammad Ajul and has been living in Barangay Tuburan Proper in the last few years with some relatives.
He was previously arrested for murder and frustrated murder in relation to the ASG's activities, but his cases were dismissed.
After this, Alam went back to Basilan and became an ally of Malaysian Bomb expert Moho Najib bin Husen, who is also linked to Jemaah Islamiyah.
Husen is believed to have conducted training on bomb making in Mohammad Ajul. His students were ASG members.
He has extensive knowledge on how to make improvised explosive devices using available resources in their area.
But the military said there were no new designs of bombs recovered in Mohammad Ajul.
Guerrero said the bombs assembled and being produced in the house of Alam are intended to create chaos in Basilan, Zamboanga City and other provinces near the Zamboanga Peninsula.
"We consider this as a significant recovery of AFP, as well as in coordination with the police, na-neutralize ang factory nila and then we always make sure that this will not be replicated in other areas." Guerrero said.
Before the discovery of the so-called bomb factory of the ASG, the rebels attacked the municipal police station of Mohammad Ajul. They planted a bomb in the police station and even raised their Shahada flag, which is similar to the flag of the terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The military acted as reinforcements to the policemen and civilian volunteers, prompting the ASG to leave Barangay Tuburan Proper.
The commander of Joint Task Group Basilan, Colonel Rolly Bautista, said they considered the presence of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) members in Mohammad Ajul before proceeding with their operation.
He said they had to avoid passing by some MILF communities and opted to use their water assets to get to Barangay Tuburan Proper.
Bautista also coordinated with top MILF officials to make sure that there will be no mis-encounter between government troops and the MILF.
"Ang dynamics kasi dito, ang vicinity nito ay surrounded by MILF communities, so apparently we cannot just move to the area, so we have to coordinate with the different commanders. The dynamics of the MILF forces, some are controlled by their commanders, but some particularly those younger members do not obey orders from their superiors."
The MILF inked a peace deal with the Philippine government in a bid to create a new Bangsamoro government and bring peace and development to the region.
Mohammad Ajul Mayor Talib Pawaki also questioned why the MILF members are not helping the government forces in the operation against the ASG.
He said there are some MILF members who have been helping the ASG.
The chief of police of Mohammad Ajul municipal police station, Senior Inspector Faizal Tandico, said three barangays were directly affected by the armed conflict in the area.
These are barangays Tuburan Proper, Basakan and Languyan. Most of the residents in these barangays have fled to safer places.
More than 700 families have been displaced in the conflict and are now staying with their relatives living in nearby municipalities in Basilan.
The military said it is not yet safe for residents to go back to their homes, as the operation against the ASG is still ongoing.
Next week, the Municipal Peace and Order Council will meet to discuss how to restore peace and order in the affected barangays of Mohammad Ajul.