More than 100 troops, police storm homes of massacre suspects
More than 100 Philippine troops and police stormed the homes on Friday of a powerful clan family suspected of involvement in a Nov. 23 massacre that left 57 people dead in what police say were politically motivated killings.
AFP - Philippine troops wearing body armour and carrying assault rifles on Friday stormed the homes of a powerful clan suspected of involvement in a massacre that left 57 people dead.
More than 100 soldiers and dozens of police raided the mansion of Andal Ampatuan Jnr, a local mayor in the southern Philippines who has been charged with 25 counts of murder so far over last week's slaughter.
"They are looking for guns, bullets, everything. The warrant covers everything," regional military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Ponce told AFP.
Homes of other members of the Ampatuan clan, including the patriarch of the family who has been the governor of Maguindanao province since 2001, were entered in subsequent raids on Friday morning, authorities said.
The governor, Andal Ampatuan Snr, was not detained in the raid but it was the most dramatic phase in the apparent downfall of a man who until last week enjoyed the backing of President Gloria Arroyo's ruling coalition.
Police said this week they had indicted Ampatuan Snr and four other family members for their alleged role in the massacre, and were waiting for the justice department to decide whether to charge them in court.
Ampatuan Snr had ruled the strife-torn province with the backing of his own private army and installed his family members into a myriad of government positions.
However, the coalition expelled Ampatuan Snr and Jnr, as well as another relative who held a senior position on the southern island of Mindanao that encompasses Maguindanao, following the November 23 massacre.
Police allege Ampatuan Jnr and 100 of his gunmen shot dead the occupants of a convoy that included relatives of his rival for the post of Maguindanao governor in next year's elections, as well as a group of journalists.
The rival, Esmael Mangudadatu, said the killings were carried out to stop him from running for office.
The compound that was raided on Friday is surrounded by concrete walls about two metres (six feet) high and contains the homes of a number of Ampatuan clan members.
It is in Maguindanao's capital, Shariff Aguak, and next to the provincial headquarters.
GMA television showed a police investigator using a hammer to bore a hole on a wall that was apparently part of the guardhouse of Ampatuan Jnr's home.
Television footage showed ammunition boxes being pulled out from the hole, but the station said the boxes were empty.
It also aired footage of the raid on Ampatuan Snr's home.
It showed one of his sons, Sajid Ampatuan, crying as an armoured troop carrier entered the gate of his compound and with the clan's security men lying face down on the floor.
The raids took place after investigators on Thursday unearthed a large cache of weapons that had been buried in a vacant lot near the Ampatuan compound, another military official said on GMA television.
"We believe that these were used during the massacre," Colonel Leo Ferrer, commander of an army brigade in the area who led the search, said in an interview aired by the station.
The weapons inventory included three anti-tank recoilless rifles, five mortars, seven machine guns, 10 rifles and pistols, and more than 100 boxes of bullets.
Muslim rebels fighting for an independent homeland have been waging a rebellion on Maguindanao and other parts of Mindanao island since the late 1970s.
The conflict has claimed more than 150,000 lives since the late 1970s, according to military estimates.
Arroyo's government has used Muslim clans such as the Ampatuans to rule these areas, and allowed them to build up their own armies as part of a containment strategy against the insurgents.
However, critics have said this tactic has created warlords who act outside the law, with the massacre just the most dramatic example.