THE PHILIPPINE National Police (PNP) has identified a member of a terrorist group as the prime suspect in last week’s deadly night-market blast in Davao City, as the reward for the capture of those responsible for the bombing was raised to P3 million.
Director General Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa, the PNP chief, said Thursday the main suspect was “positively identified” by two massage therapists who worked at the Roxas Night Market.
The male suspect, said to have left a bag that contained two mortar rounds at the night market’s massage area, was identified by the witnesses even if his face was covered, after they were shown 20 pictures or portraits showing facial features, the PNP chief said.
De la Rosa said he did not want to name the prime suspect amid a manhunt, but added that police already knew where he might be hiding.
The PNP chief also confirmed that the suspect belonged to a terrorist group, which he declined to name.
Police on Wednesday evening released the computerized facial composition and an artist’s sketch of the prime suspect in the blast.
A police intelligence officer on Thursday described the main suspect being hunted by military and police intelligence operatives as a Philippine-born Indonesian son of a member of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terror network.
“The subject of our operation was an Indonesian who was born in our country and per our information … he was the one who left the bomb in Davao City last Friday night,” said the Camp Crame-based source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The explosion in Davao killed 14 people and left dozens wounded.
The intelligence officer said the suspect was born and raised in Mindanao, which “makes him very familiar with every nook and cranny of Mindanao” and “could complicate our search operation for him.”
The suspect was trained by JI operatives who had sought refuge in Mindanao, the officer added.
The Indonesia-based JI is among the terrorist groups once affiliated with Al Qaeda, who have recently switched allegiance to the more radical Islamic State.
“He is trained in bomb-making and in fact you can say that he is at the level of Zulkipli Bin Hir alias ‘Marwan’ when it comes to making bombs,” the source said.
The intelligence source was referring to the Malaysian engineer and JI operative linked to the October 2002 Bali bombing, who was killed in the controversial PNP “Oplan Exodus” in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on January 25, 2015.
The covert operation turned awry, leading to the deaths of 44 PNP Special Action Force commandos, 17 fighters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and at least three civilians in fighting that broke out after Marwan was killed.
Last week’s Davao bombing prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to place the country under a “state of national emergency on account of lawless violence.”
In Davao City, Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio raised the reward for the identification and arrest of those responsible for the night market bombing to P3 million from P2 million.
“A businessman in Davao City donated P500,000 for the additional reward money and a law firm through Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez also gave another P500,000,“ she said.
The mayor, the daughter of President Duterte, said the reward for any information on the identity and whereabouts of the suspects stood at P1 million, while P2 million would be given to those who would be able to arrest and bring them alive to authorities.
As this developed, the former chief of the unified command staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Eastern Mindanao Command assumed his new post as commander of Task Force Davao, in charge of securing the city.
A member of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1988, Col. Erwin Bernard Neri replaced Col. Henry Robinson who was sacked following the night market bombing.
Neri had served at the Army’s civil-military operations office and the Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff for Education and Training.
He also commanded the 79th Infantry Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division, and was the executive officer of the 302nd Brigade, also of the 3rd Infantry Division.
Neri has a master’s degree in management, major in public management, from the University of the Philippines in Baguio.
“Let us work for intelligence fusion to strengthen intelligence monitoring to cover all areas of concern. However intelligence does not only come from our intelligence units but also from the community,” he said in his acceptance speech.