MLANG, North Cotabato: Local officials here believed the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and al-Khobar extortion gang members had a hand in the deadly December 31 bombing that left two females dead and 33 others wounded.
Mayor Joselito Pinol said he believed the outlawed BIFF was behind the attack in retaliation to the arrest earlier of a man suspected to have carried out the Nov. 23 bombing at a billiard hall near the town plaza.
“No matter how they deny it, all indications point to them,” Pinol told DXND Radyo Bida Friday. “It was a retaliation for the arrest of a suspect in the Nov. 23 bombing,” he added.
Senior Supt. Danilo Peralta, North Cotabato provincial police director, earlier said investigators believed the Dec. 31 bomb attack was carried out by companions of the suspect arrested on Tuesday.
Cream bread vendor Christine Salo, 28 of Barangay Bialong, Mlang died on the spot while Zenaida Suelo, 47 of Barangay Malayan expired while at the hospital. (Earlier report said four have perished but officials said there was a mixed up of information due to commotion.)
Pinol, who was on vacation in Luzon, cut short his holiday and took the first flight to Davao on January 1 en route to Mlang.
He called on the people of Mlang, especially the village officials, to be more vigilant and help authorities prevent similar attack in the future.
Pinol said he talked to one of the wounded victims who recalled events shortly before the blast.
Quoting a witness, Pinol said a man with a huge plastic bag arrived and sought permission from a vendor that he be allowed to leave his thing. The woman refused, telling the man leaving things here is not allowed.
The man moved to another vendor, Christine Salo, and sought permission to leave his huge cellophane that looked like containing merchandise and fruits.
Salo did not mind the man as she was busy selling cream bread. “The area was bustling with shoppers and everybody was busy that nobody noticed the man with the bag left,” Pinol said in the vernacular.
Pinol said the person arrested by police agents due to his alleged involvement in the Nov. 23 bombing was a member of al-Khobar extortion gang, a group composed of bandits that prey on bus companies plying the North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Bukidnon route.
“He was an al-khobar member adopted by the BIFF,” Pinol said.
Abu Misry Mama, speaking for the BIFF, denied Pinol’s claim and said his group do not attack civilians, only the Army.
One of the critically wounded victims, Candida Pante, a relative of Pinol, was rushed to Davao City where her left leg was amputated due to serious shrapnel injuries. PNA