The carnapping syndicate operating here has the backing of Moro extremists who traded shots with lawmen during the recent law enforcement operation in Barangay Gukotan, a police official said Friday.
Brig. Gen. Alexander Tagum, director of Police Regional Office 12 (Soccsksargen), said about 50 heavily armed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) have been serving as security forces of Joel Manampan, the alleged car theft gang syndicate leader who maintains a warehouse in the village.
“These BIFF traded bullets with our operating troops during the 3 a.m. raid on Wednesday,” Tagum told reporters during a follow-up radio interview with reporters. “While the firefight was ongoing, Manampan escaped.”
The operation in Gukotan left five suspected syndicate supporters dead, three of whom were believed to be BIFF members, and four police officers wounded.
The police recovered 442 motorcycles of different models, high-powered firearms that included M60 machine guns, assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, improvised bombs, and bomb-making ingredients from the compound owned and managed by Manampan.
Tagum said after receiving reports about the presence of hundreds of stolen motorcycles, the North Cotabato police conducted intensive intelligence operations for more than a month.
“As soon as reports from civilians were verified, the law enforcement operation was conducted in partnership with the Army’s 602nd Infantry Brigade,” he said.
He noted that the police officers hurt in the encounter were now safe, adding that a manhunt operation against Manampan and his companions is ongoing.
He appealed to all car theft victims in North Cotabato and Maguindanao to check if their vehicles were among those found in Gukotan.
All the recovered motorbikes are now at the North Cotabato police provincial office in Barangay Amas, Kidapawan City.
Source: Philippines News Agency