Sunday, January 17, 2010

Mansion of mass murder suspects searched again for illegal weapons

A womnan points to a hole where security forces searched for weapons but found nothing inside the sprawling compound of the Ampatuan mansion in Shariff Aguak town in Maguidnanao province. Clan members were accused in the November 23 mass murder of 57 innocent people in Maguindanao's Ampatuan town. (Mindanao Examiner Photo / Mark Navales)

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / January 17, 2010) – Security forces searched the sprawling compound of a mansion owned by the powerful Ampatuan clan whose patriarch and sons were implicated in the gruesome murder of at least 57 people in Maguindanao province in the southern Philippines, officials said.

Officials said policemen backed by soldiers were searching for illegal weapons believed buried in the compound in Shariff Aguak town on Saturday.

Their search warrant, however, were limited at a grave yard, where earlier reports said that a huge cache of weapons were buried. No weapons were found.

Security forces have recovered more than 1,000 assorted light artillery and heavy infantry weapons and hundreds of thousands of munitions allegedly owned by the Ampatuan in various areas in Shariff Aguak town since after the murders.

Journalists who were embedded with the security forces during the search noticed that many areas near the graveyard were freshly dug and then covered, raising suspicions that the weapons may had been transferred to other places inside the mansion owned by Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., whose son and namesake, was accused of masterminding the November 23 massacre in Ampatuan town.

Among those killed were at least 31 journalists who joined a political caravan by Ampatuan’s foe, Buluan town vice mayor Esmael Mangudadatu. His wife and two sisters were also among those brutally murdered.

Police and military implicated both father and son and another Andal’s elder brother, Zaldy Ampatuan, the governor of the Muslim autonomous region to which Maguindanao belongs. Several family members were also linked to the killings, but the Ampatuan clan strongly denied the massacre and pointed to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels as behind the murderous rampage.

Authorities rejected the allegations and filed multiple criminal charges against the Ampatuans and hundreds of supporters. (With reports from Nickee Butlangan and Mark Navales)

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