ZAMBOANGA CITY: Philippine security forces arrested a Swede and three other Filipino Muslims being linked to a recent motorcycle bombing in the southern town of Isulan that left seven people seriously wounded, the Western Mindanao Command announced on Tuesday.
The suspects were all arrested in the village of Kapaya in the town of Bagumbayan in Sultan Kudarat province where the September 7 bombing outside a market place occurred.
The military identified the Swedish man as Hassan Akgun, and the others as Abedin, Normia and Norshiya, all surnamed Camsa. It said security forces also seized an IS flag from the trio, including an M16 automatic rifle, a .45-caliber pistol, a .38-caliber revolver, a shot gun, an improvised explosive, and 13 cellular phones among other things.
But details of their capture were not made public in the vague military report, but Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, chief of the Western Mindanao Command, urged the public to remain “vigilant for there are still enemies out there who will always try to inflict havoc in the communities.”
It is unknown whether the Swedish man and the others are members of IS or other Islamic extremist groups such as the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters – a breakaway faction of the larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) – which was suspected to have carried out the bombing.
The motorcycle, rigged with explosives, was parked outside the market when it went off and wounded people nearby, including a traffic constable. No individual or group claimed responsibility for the terror attack, but it occurred even as the whole southern region was under an extended martial rule.
It was unclear how the bomber managed to sneak into the town, passing through several police and military checkpoints and road blocks and left the motorcycle bomb undetected by authorities.
The attack coincided with the mass surrender of MILF fighters.
The MILF, which signed an interim peace deal with Manila in 2014, said a total of 1,060 combatants from about 40,000 fighters – and their weapons were decommissioned as part of a process that will help the rebels return to the fold of the law and establish civilian life.
Rebel chieftain Murad Ebrahim, who is also the Chief Minister of the Muslim autonomous region, said the weapons were handed over to the independent decommissioning body headed by Turkish Ambassador Fatih Ulusoy. After their surrender, the rebels will each receive at least P100,000 from the Duterte government and a socio-economic assistance package of up to P1 million.
In April, over a dozen people were injured when a motorcycle rigged with explosives also went off outside the Carlito’s Chicken restaurant in Isulan town. The blast coincided with the town’s 61st founding anniversary.
A similar attack – claimed by the IS – also occurred in August last year when a motorcycle bomb exploded outside a row of shops in Isulan and wounded several civilians. Security forces have been fighting several Islamist groups in the southern region where President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the armed forces to crush terrorism.
Leaders of the BIFF, who have pledged allegiance to IS, also claimed responsibility for last year’s attack in the town. WITH A REPORT FROM DEMPSEY REYES