Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Civilian gets reward for helping track down Basilan escapees

A masked civilian who helped security forces tracked down two of 31 prisoners that bolted the Basilan provincial jail is rewarded P350,000 by a regional Philippine Navy chief Alexander Pama and Marine Lieutenant General Benjamin Dolorfino at a press conference in Isabela City on Tuesday, December 15, 2009. Manila has offered as much as P10 million for the capture of the escapees, mostly Abu Sayyaf militants whose group is tied to al-Qaeda terror network and senior members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. (Mindanao Examiner)

BASILAN, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / December 15, 2009) – Philippine authorities rewarded Tuesday some P350,000 to a civilian who helped security forces tracked down two of 31 mostly Abu Sayyaf terrorists that bolted a prison in Basilan province.

The man, his face covered with a ski mask and wearing a pair of dark sunglasses, received the money, all in several bundles of P500 bills, at a press conference in Isabela City in Basilan province.

Philippine Navy regional chief Alexander Pama and Marine Lieutenant General Benjamin Dolorfino handed the reward.

“This money is given to the civilian who helped us tracked down two of those who escaped from prison. We are continuing our hunt to recapture the rest.
We need the cooperation of the civilians to capture all the fugitives,” Dolorfino said.

The informant did not give any statement and was quickly whisked away by policemen and soldiers to a waiting van.

Troops tracked down the two prisoners on Monday in a village called Maligue in Isabela City, but one of them – an Abu Sayyaf militant – was killed in a subsequent firefight with soldiers. The other was a criminal facing a string of charges in Basilan.

Basilan jail warden Julmaril Sali said 17 of those who escaped from prison were Abu Sayyaf militants and 5 are members of the country’s largest Muslim rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front – two of them commanders – while the rest were criminals.

The prisoners escaped on December 13 after more than 100 gunmen stormed the provincial jail in the village of Sumagdang in Isabela City. A jail guard and one of the attackers were killed in the raid.

Authorities said the attackers were mostly Abu Sayyaf and Moro rebels.

The MILF denied it was involved in the raid, but admitted that one of those who escaped from the jail is a rebel commander accused by the military of beheading 10 soldiers in a firefight in Basilan.

“One of those who escaped is our commander Dan Asnawi who is being accused by the military as involved in the beheading of the soldiers in Basilan.

Asnawi was never involved in the beheading and he probably joined those who escaped from the prison because he is being implicated in a crime he did not commit,” said Eid Kabalu, a spokesman for the MILF, which is currently negotiating peace with Manila.

Police and jail officials said another MILF rebel – Kamsa Limaya - also escaped together with the others, but Kabalu said the prisoner is not their member. Limaya is said to be involved in the July 2007 beheading of the soldiers in the town of Al Barka.

“Many of those who escaped are Abu Sayyaf members,” Kabalu said, adding, his group is willing to cooperate with the authorities in the investigation into the jailbreak.

Basilan jail warden Jul Sali said the lack of government support to help improve the prison facility could be blamed for the escape of the inmates.

“We lack vehicles and weapons and we need more guards. We need more support to beef up the security of the prison,” he said.

It was the fourth time in five years that prisoners had escaped from the provincial jail. At least 3 Abu Sayyaf prisoners – tagged as behind the beheading of 10 soldiers in Basilan – also escaped in December 2008 from the provincial jail after overpowering their guards.

And in July 2007, at least 16 hardened criminals, including four Abu Sayyaf militants, escaped from the prison after destroying the windows of their cell.

In April 2004, at least 53 of the more than 130 prisoners at the provincial jail, including 19 Abu Sayyaf members, also escaped using a smuggled .45-caliber pistol which they used in overpowering the guards. (Mindanao Examiner)

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