THE powerful explosion that rocked Cagayan de Oro City on Sunday that left eight people dead and scores of others injured was the handiwork of a Muslim extremist group, according to sources in the military intelligence community.
The source said that the bomb used was fashioned from a .81 mm mortar, which is normally used by extremist groups but not by the communist New People’s Army (NPA).
“It was a terror attack,” it said, adding that the recent incident was similar to the bomb explosion last year near the Maxandrea Hotel, also in Cagayan de Oro City, which left two people dead.
The only difference, he noted, was that the bomb used at Maxandrea was from a .60 mm mortar, adding that extremist groups in the Middle East also used the same technique fashioning powerful explosives from mortars left behind by American forces.
The source stressed though that aside from the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), other groups like the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and its splinter group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) also have the capability to carry out such bombing.
He said that they were also looking at other possible angles though he admitted that they have no evidence to prove that the bombing can be linked to ongoing peace negotiations between the government and the MILF.
Asked why the bombers went as far as Cagayan de Oro City, the source explained that it might be so because they do not want their fellow Muslims hurt but only the “infidels,” or non-believers of Islam.
The ASG, MILF and MNLF operates in the Basilan, Sulu, Maguindanao, South Cotabao, Cotabato City, Marawi City, Lanao provinces and other pre-dominantly Muslim areas.
JI members in Mindanao
Earlier, the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (Isafp) said that they have monitored the presence of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) members in Mindanao but could not ascertain their actual numbers.
JI is an Asian-based terrorist cell with links to al-Qaeda, an international terror group founded by the late Osama bin Laden.
The foreign terrorists, the source said, were training ASG members on bomb making and other aspects of terrorist warfare and even went as far as Central Mindanao, which is composed of the Provinces of Lanao del Norte, North Cotabato, Maguindanao and Lanao Del Sur, to link arms with rogue elements and former MILF members.
Former Isafp chief Maj. Gen. Ceasar Ronnie Ordoyo had confirmed the presence of JI members in the country, training ASG and rogue elements of the MILF in bomb making and marksmanship, among others.
The training, Ordoyo said, were being conducted in rebel camps but refused to identify which camp so as not to jeopardize military operations.
According to Ordoyo, the Isafp were monitoring all said training activities of the terrorists even as he admitted that they were also having a hard time containing them because of the terrorists’ ability to blend with the local communities.
On January 2012, no less than President Aquino disclosed the presence of terrorists in Metro Manila who were out to disrupt the annual celebration of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said the threat was for real, adding that intelligence operatives have monitored the arrival in Manila then of six to nine suspected terrorists, all experts in bomb making.
None of the said terrorists were arrested.
On February 2012, the military claimed that three of the most wanted leaders of the JI and ASG were killed in bombing operations in Sulu. They were identified as ASG leader Umbra Jumdail, a.k.a. Dr. Abu, a Filipino; Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, and Singaporean Abdullah Ali, alias Muawiyah.
On December 2012, joint military and police operatives also arrested Amajad Ahaddin, one of the explosive experts of the ASG.
Ahaddin, authorities said, was involved in a series of terrorist bombing and other atrocities in Mindanao that include the October 17, 2002 twin bombing of the Shop O’ Rama and the Shopper’s Central Department Stores in Zamboanga City.
Ahaddin’s latest caper was the November 27, 2011 bombing of a pension house in Zamboanga City that killed three people and wounded 27 others.
He is also one of the suspects in the October 2, 2002 Malagutay district, Zamboanga karaoke bar bombing that killed an Ameri can Special Forces (United States Army) Green Beret “Commando” commando and three civilians and wounded at least 25 other people, including another American trooper.
Police records also showed that Ahaddin and his group were also behind the August 10, 2005 twin explosion at a minibus terminal and a parked motorcycle, and as well as the OK Bazaar and Chowking Building, all in Zamboanga City, that injured more than 30 persons.
The suspects were also believed to be responsible for the twin bombing of the Red Palm Hotel and the San Roque Cockpit Arena on October 11, 2011 that caused massive destruction to both establishments and as well as the bombing of a Lotto outlet and a fruit stand in Sangali, Zamboanga on October 26, 2011 that killed one and wounded six others.
Several police executives in Northern Mindanao are in danger of losing their post for their apparent ‘failure to detect and prevent’ the bombing of a bar in Cagayan de Oro City.
Philippine National Police chief, Director Gen. Alan Purisima on Tuesday said that they are now looking into the possible culpability of the chief of police of Cagayan de Oro City and several intelligence police officers in the region.
“We are studying the responsibility of the chief of police and the failure to gather information before the explosion happened,” Purisima told reporters in a press briefing in Camp Crame on Tuesday afternoon.
Purisima said that they will still give concerned police officers in Northern Mindanao region, particularly Cagayan de Oro City police chief, Sr. Supt. Graciano Mijares, to air their side regarding the incident.
“This is a terrorist act . . . the police community should have been busy gathering intelligence. But apparently the information that were received is not enough,” Purisima said.
William B. Depasupil
With a report from Anthony Vargas