Manhunt on for Maguindanao bombing suspects

MANILA (Updated) — A manhunt was launched against two suspected members of a rebel group after a homemade bomb that was likely set off in the southern Philippines on Saturday wounded 12 people, including six soldiers and two television journalists, the military said.

The blast happened near an area where government troops have been battling members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) who broke away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) after it signed a peace deal with the government.

The victims, including two TV journalists, were hit by shrapnel in Maguindanao province's Datu Saudi Ampatuan township, but their injuries were not life-threatening, said regional military spokesman Col. Dickson Hermoso.

Hermoso said the convoy, composed of 2nd Mechanized Infantry Battalion soldiers, a civilian pick-up truck and the TV-5 vehicle, was heading toward Datu Piang when the incident happened.

He added that soldiers were running after two BIFF members who were seen by witnesses as among those who planted a bag at a roadside and detonated as the convoy was passing by.

A reporter and a cameraman for the local TV5 network were reporting near the site of an earlier explosion, which flattened the tires of a military armored vehicle.

They were following soldiers in two other armored vehicles when a second bomb exploded about 45 minutes later, wounding the journalists, six soldiers, and four civilians.

The network said in a statement that the journalists will be flown back to the Manila.

Army Major Dante Gania, 6th Infantry Division civil-military operations chief, identified the wounded journalists as TV-5 reporter Jeff Caparas and cameraman Adrian Bulatao.

The explosions came three days after troops captured a rebel stronghold with bomb-making and training facilities. The bombs are typically fashioned from unexploded mortars and rocket-propelled grenades triggered remotely by cellphones.

"That is their signature based on what we have recovered from their camp," Hermoso said. "They just set off bombs in civilian communities and it doesn't matter to them who gets hit, and this is an example."

Since Monday, at least 52 insurgents and one soldier have been killed in the fighting, he said.

The IED blast was believed to be part of the diversionary tactics of the BIFF members, who suffered heavy casualties in fighting with government forces that began Monday.

As of this posting Saturday, more checkpoints were set up in Datu Saudi Ampatuan and Datu Piang, especially along the routes leading to military camps to avoid similar incident.

The BIFF rebels belonging to the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM) are fighting to establish an independent state and broke away from the MILF, which has agreed to a deal granting them greater autonomy in the southern Philippines.

The talks to end four decades of Muslim rebellion in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation's south were concluded last week in Malaysia.

The Philippine government is also battling other rebel groups, including the smaller but more brutal Abu Sayyaf, which is notorious for bombings, ransom kidnappings and beheadings.

President Benigno Aquino III has said the new peace deal would bring the government and the 11,000-strong main Moro rebel group together to pursue outlaws who have long thrived in the conflict. (AP/PNA/VR/Sunnex)
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