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MNLF ally owns up to attack on US troops

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – A group claiming to be allied with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) of Nur Misuari claimed responsibility on Saturday for a roadside bombing that killed two US Navy personnel and a Filipino marine in Jolo Island last Tuesday. Madarang Sali, deputy commander of the Bangsamoro National Liberation Army, said the attack on the American soldiers was in retaliation for the continued operations of the US and Philippine military against the MNLF in the southern province of Sulu. “The BNLA and MNLF members planted the bomb. The US forces are really involved in the operations in Sulu. The land mine used in the attack was that of the BNLA," Sali said in a statement. The MNLF, chaired by former Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) governor Nur Misuari, has maintained its armed units despite its after the group signed a peace agreement with the Philippine government. The MNLF signed a peace deal with Manila in September 1996, but many of its members were disgruntled with the accord and accused the government of failing to uplift their living standards. Sali last week said the military offensive targeted the MNLF in Sulu. He said Ajibun escaped a military raid last week in the province. Sali said fighting between rebels and government troops broke out again late Saturday afternoon in the village of Bunot in Indanan town. “Fighting again erupted (in the village) and they will suffer defeat.The Bangsamoro revolutionary forces have declared a jihad (holy war) against the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine government for the Bangsamoro homeland," said Sali, who is also the spokesman for the Bangsamoro Federated States of Sulu Archipelago. The clashes erupted after rebel forces bombed a bridge late Friday in the village of Bunot. It was the third time rebels bombed bridges in Sulu in a span of two weeks. Maj. Gen. Benjamin Dolorfino, chief of the military’s Western Mindanao Command, blamed the Abu Sayyaf for the bombing of the bridges and the attack on the US forces. Dolorfino said troops were tracking down at least four most senior Abu Sayyaf leaders – Dr Abu, Albader Parad, Isnilon Hapilon and Yasser Igasan – including two foreign Jemaah Islamiya terrorists Mauiya and Quayem and some 200 followers. But Sali said Dolorfino was just engaging in propaganda. “It is purely the operations of the BNLA and the MNLF, not the Abu Sayyaf or the Jemaah Islamiya," he said. He said the BNLA is headed by Lieutenant General Abdulnasser Iskandar, while the MNLF are under the command of Ustadz Habier Malik, Khaid Ajibun and Tahil Usman. The killing of the two US Special Forces soldiers further bolstered suspicions that American troops are often engaged in counterterrorism operations in Sulu, where 42 militants and soldiers were killed in recent clashes in Indanan town. The Philippine military previously blamed the extremist Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah for the attack on the US soldiers. It said those killed in the roadside bombing were non-combatants, but members of the US Navy Seabees who were involved in humanitarian missions in Sulu. US Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney earlier said the soldiers “lost their lives serving others and we will always be grateful for their contributions to improve the quality of life on Jolo." The military did not immediately respond to Sali’s claim. Sali said only 10 MNLF rebels were killed in the fighting – seven under Malik and three more under the command of Ajibun. He warned of more attacks against US troops if they continue participating in combat operations in Sulu. US troops have been are deployed in Sulu since 2006 and assisting the Philippine military in defeating the Abu Sayyaf. Although security officials deny US forces were directly involved in combat operations, there were numerous reports from civilians and various civil groups that American soldiers actually participated in the operations aimed at capturing or killing militant leaders in Sulu and other parts of Mindanao. On Thursday, Moro rebels ambushed Marines in Sulu’s Panamao town, sparking a fierce firefight that left one soldier and three gunmen dead. Nine soldiers were also wounded in the clashes. - Geonarri Solmerano, GMANews.TV