AUTHORITIES have arrested four suspects in the September 2 bombing of a night market in Davao City that killed 15 people and wounded 69 others – one of the worst terror attacks in recent years in President Rodrigo Duterte’s home city.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Ricardo Visaya and Army commander Lt. Gen. Eduardo Año presented TJ Tagadaya Macabalang, Wendel Apostol Facturan and Musali Mustapha, all members of the Maute group, to journalists in Camp Aguinaldo.
They were described as “students” of slain Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli Bin Hir alias Marwan who was killed by police in Mamasapano, Maguindanao in January 2015, in an anti-terrorist operation that resulted in the deaths of 44 police commandos.
While other suspects remain at large, Lorenzana said he considered the case “closed.”
The three were arrested on October 4 after supposedly trying to evade a checkpoint by the AFP and the Philippine National Police (PNP).
Found in their possession were several improvised explosives, a submachine gun, a .45 caliber pistol, a motorcycle without a license plate, and mobile phones that contained videos and photos of the Davao bombing.
In a news conference, Lorenzana said the three directly participated in the Davao blast, which he added was intended to divert and disrupt the intensified combat operations against the terrorist Abu Sayyaf group, which has ties to the Maute group.
The Maute group has been trying to get the attention of the Islamic State, as indicated in a video clip found in one of the seized mobile phones, Lorenzana said.
Based on initial investigations and debriefing, Macabalang detonated the bomb that was placed by Facturan, authorities said. Mustapha, meanwhile, took a video of the incident using his cellular phone.
A 20-second propaganda video showing Facturan and a photo showing a bomb manual were also recovered from the phones.
“There are indications that the Maute group is trying to align [itself]with the [Islamic State] as seen in the recovered video,” Año, the Army chief, said.
The military also claimed the attack was staged in retaliation for the heavy casualties suffered by the Maute group in Butig, Lanao del Sur. Operations in August 2016 resulted in the capture of eight Maute members at a checkpoint on August 22. The arrested gang members bolted out of prison on August 27.
Ten other members of the Maute Group are said to have participated in the Davao City bombing.
The suspects had a backup plan to use hand grenades in case the bomb failed to explode, the military said.
Also on Friday, government forces raided the house of the father of TJ Macabalang in Cotabato City and seized high-powered and short firearms, ammunition and explosive materials.
Visaya said the raid was conducted at the house of Teng Macabalang in Barangay Rosary Heights 6, Cotabato City at 2 a.m. on Friday. Macabalang was brought to the local police office.
TJ Macabalang and his mechanic Wendel Facturan, 19, were earlier reported by the older Macabalang to have been abducted by gunmen in Cotabato City.
Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, the presidential daughter, lauded the arrest of the blast suspects.
Carpio last month offered a P3-million bounty for any information that would lead to the arrest of the suspects.
“It is, however, important for us to remember that the arrest must ultimately lead us to the dismantling of terror groups in our midst or result in the failure of more senseless acts of violence and extremism,” she said.
Security remains tight in Davao City and just last month, Carpio urged Muslims to use the hijab, instead of the niqab and burka, to show their faces in public, and citizens not to wear masks that cover the faces, especially in public places.