ILIGAN CITY -- Authorities arrested on Tuesday, January 23, three Dawlah Islamiya-Maute group sympathizers in Barangay Gacap, Piagapo, Lanao del Sur.
The three are identified as Jamal Ramal Berongan alias Mayor, Ibrahim Alek Undi alias Brad Alexander, and Apao Dimacaling, all residents of Barangay Gacap, said Major Roger Suscano, officer-in-charge of the Division Public Affairs Office of the 1st Infantry "Tabak" Division, Philippine Army.
Two caliber .45 pistols were seized from Dimacaling and Berongan.
Colonel Generoso Ponio, Army's 103rd Infantry Brigade commander, said the suspects were nabbed around 4 a.m. with the help of civilians who reported to authorities about unidentified individuals roaming in the area.
"They are not in the official list of the Maute group as members but they are verified 'aggressive sympathizers' of the ISIS-inspired group because they are armed and willing to kill military and suspected assets of the government forces," Suscano said.
He said Dimacaling, Undi and Berongan are also on their list of persons to be arrested.
Police Senior Superintendent John Guygoyon, director of Lanao del Sur Police Provincial Office, said the three are also suspects in the killing of three civilians in Piagapo last December 2017.
The civilians, who were from Misamis Oriental, were selling furniture when they were killed. They were found dead on December 6, 2017 at the border of Piagapo and Balindong towns in Lanao del Sur.
There are witnesses who can point to the three as the killers of the furniture vendors but are too afraid to come out for fear of their lives, said Guygoyon.
He said the three also supposedly claimed to have killed the three civilians as revenge for the deaths of their relatives during the Marawi siege.
The suspects are now under the police custody.
"This is our challenge. It is difficult for us to pursue our case because no one will come out to witness against them. After 24 hours, we will free them but we are hoping we can press charges against them and we will do our best," Guygoyon said.
Major General Roseller Murillo, Army's 1st Infantry Division commander, commended the troops of the Joint Task Group Haribon and the police for the successful mission.
"The recent accomplishment of our troops only shows that the civilian community is getting more supportive in our efforts to totally crash out not only the remnants of Maute-ISIS group but their civilian sympathizers as well," Murillo said.
"We shall continue working with other stakeholders and also the civilian community in accomplishing our mandate to serve the Filipino people," he added.
The Piagapo town was occupied by the Daesh-inspired Maute group, a month before the attack in Marawi City last year.
This followed after the four consecutive military operations in 2016 in the town of Butig, some 30 kilometers away from Piagapo.
In Piagapo, several fighters, including some foreign-looking men, were killed in a five-day combat operations of the government forces in April 2017.
In previous interview with Gacap barangay chairman Saiben Abubacar, he confirmed that an Imam in the area was one of the recruits of the terror group and was one of those killed in the military operations.