Philippine troops wearing body armour and carrying assault rifles today stormed the homes of a powerful clan suspected of involvement in a massacre that left 57 people dead. The dramatic raids came after authorities found a huge cache of pistols, rifles and other weapons believed used in the killings that were buried just a few hundred metres from the Ampatuan family's compound of mansions. "They are looking for guns, bullets, everything. The warrant covers everything," the regional military spokesman Lt Col Jonathan Ponce said shortly after troops poured into the compound on Friday morning.
More than 100 soldiers and dozens of police initially raided the home 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. Homes belonging to 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, 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. 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 then 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. 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 yesterday is surrounded by concrete walls about two metres high and contains the homes of a number of Ampatuan clan members. It is in Maguindanao's capital, Sheriff Aguak, and next to the provincial headquarters. Two of the other homes targeted in the raids belonged to Akmad Ampatuan, Ampatuan Snr's brother who is the vice governor of Maguindanao, according to national police chief Jesus Verzosa.
Verzosa told a news conference a 60mm mortar was seized from one of the homes. However Verzosa said the biggest potential breakthrough was the discovery of the weapons and ammunition near the Ampatuan compound on Thursday afternoon. * AFP