Bus blast ‘dry run’ for bigger attack

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The bombing of a commuter bus in Bukidnon that killed 10 people and injured at least 31 others on Tuesday could be a mere dry run for a bigger attack, said a source from the police intelligence community on Thursday.

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“That bus bombing could be a dry-run for [an attack on]a much bigger target,” said the source, who requested anonymity for lack of authority to speak on the matter.

He also said the Al-Khobar extortion group could be involved in the blast.

Rural Mindanao Transit Inc., the owner of the commuter bus that was bombed, had received threats from Al-Khobar in the past for refusing to pay protection money, according to the source.

Likewise, Lt. Gen. Aurelio Baladad, commander of the military’s Eastern Mindanao Command, said, “The Al-Khobar extortion gang has bombed several buses for refusing to heed their demand [for protection money].”

Police and military authorities have earlier tagged the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a splinter group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, as the group responsible for Tuesday’s bomb attack.

The BIFF, however, has denied any involvement in the bombing, maintaining that they do not target civilians.

The source, meanwhile, explained that the Al-Khobar group is comprised of members of various rebel groups operating in Mindanao.

“Some of the personalities in Al Khobar Group also [belong]to other rebel groups in the region. They just formed a group with a different name for their extortion activities,” he said.

Investigators, however, also pointed to the group led by Abdul Basit Usman as responsible for Tuesday’s attack.

Military officials earlier revealed that the blast came from an improvised explosive device (IED) fashioned from an 81-mm mortar bomb wired to a mobile phone. Initial investigations also indicated that the IED was placed on the baggage compartment inside the bus.

The IED bears the signature of Usman, according to probers.

Usman, who was reportedly trained by international terror group Jemaah Islamiya, had recently broken away from the BIFF.

After splitting from the BIFF, Usman formed the Bangsamoro Justice Movement, taking with him several members of the BIFF.

The Rural Transit bus that was bombed on Tuesday departed Wao town in Lanao del Sur at 3:00 p.m. en route to Cagayan de Oro City. The IED was apparently triggered around 5:45 p.m. as the bus was passing by the Central Mindanao University campus in Maramag town in Bukidnon.

Most of the victims killed in the blast were students.

Vice President Jejomar Binay on Thursday condemned the attack, calling it a “deplorable act of terrorism.”

“I condemn the bombing of the Rural Transit Mindanao bus in Bukidnon in the strongest possible terms. The fact that the [10] lives, including that of innocent students, were senselessly lost makes this a most deplorable act of terrorism,” Binay said.

“I condole with the families of the victims and share in the grief of their loss especially so near Christmas. I urge the PNP (Philippine National Police) and the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) to take immediate steps to unmask those behind this heinous crime and bring them to justice,” the vice president added.

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