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 MILF elements seen behind Cotabato bus bombing

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PostSubject: MILF elements seen behind Cotabato bus bombing    Sat Oct 23, 2010 8:53 am

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Police investigators are checking reports that a unit of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was involved in the bombing of a passenger bus that killed 10 people and wounded 20 others in Matalam, North Cotabato last Thursday.

Chief Superintendent Felicisimo Khu, Region 12 police director, said authorities are investigating the possible involvement of the MILF in the bombing of the Rural Transit bus with license plate KVR 480 and driven by Arlan Tadio en route to Tacurong City from Cagayan de Oro City.

The bus was cruising along the national highway in Barangay Dalapitan, Matalam when the blast occurred. Police identified nine of the fatalities as bus conductor Brian Galagas, Romil Espaola, Tanting Usop Dalidan, Lita Manzano, Noriela Akmad, Marc Lester, Geneviva Sibonga, Lolita Galido, and Marc Anthony Pardo.

The 10th fatality has not yet been identified. Khu told The STAR yesterday that investigators have ruled out the involvement of the al-Khobar extortion group in this latest bus bombing.

He said that the management of Rural Transit told investigators that the bus company has not received any extortion letter from the al-Khobar gang.

Khu, however, clarified that aside from the alleged involvement of the MILF, investigators are still pursuing other angles in the bus bombing.

The MILF denied speculations that the bus bombing was in retaliation for the arrest of a ranking MILF leader in Davao City early this month.

“That’s unfounded. There is nothing we can gain from such an atrocity. Insinuations that the MILF was involved in that bombing are baseless and unfounded,” said Von al-Haq, MILF spokesman.

Sources said the bus bombing was conducted in retaliation for government’s refusal to release MILF member Educard Guerra, also known as Abraham Yap Alonto, who was arrested last Sept. 22 at the Davao International Airport while on his way to a United Nations Human Rights Conference in Geneva, Switzerland.

The MILF has filed a formal protest before the government peace panel, demanding that Guerra be immediately released, but Guerra is still detained.

“As early as two weeks ago there were already reports that the MILF’s special operations group would fight back by carrying out a bombing mission if Guerra is not released. And true enough, the bombing occurred,” The STAR source said.

The MILF said the charges that led to Guerra’s arrest were not clear and that they demanded that he be released immediately.

“The arrest (is also) a blatant violation of the government-MILF ceasefire agreement and the spirit of the current peace talks, and documents signed by the parties, which provided for the safety and security of MILF members who are directly and principally involved in the peace process,” said Mohammed Ameen, chair of the MILF central committee secretariat.

Ameen explained that Guerra’s continued detention could affect the planned resumption of the long-stalled peace process.

Military and police sources said Guerra is very valuable to the MILF because of his expertise in the making of improvised explosive device (IED).

“Guerra is knowledgeable about bomb-making,” the source said.

Meanwhile,military sources said less than seven men carried out the bus bombing. Two of the five men reportedly boarded the bus while it was parked at the bus terminal in Kabacan, North Cotabato, left the IED inside the bus then alighted and escaped.

The IED’s components include a live 81mm mortar packed with metal fragments and rigged with a battery-operated blasting device attached to a cellular telephone.

Senior Inspector Joyce Birrey, spokesperson of the North Cotabato police, said more than 20 investigators were assigned to intensify efforts to identify the suspects.

“Sadly, all of those (passengers) near the spot where the IED was left perished. Some of the investigators are now interviewing people at the bus terminal where the bombers were reportedly seen before they planted the IED inside the bus,” Birrey said.

Sources said the MILF Special Operations Group (SOG) usually conduct bombing missions. International terrorists belonging to the Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) have reportedly trained the SOG members after the JI sent bomb experts to train local terrorists in Mindanao.

The source said that newly trained MILF SOG members conducted the bus bombing as part of a training mission.

“We are now looking into this possibility due to confirmed reports that several teams of newly trained MILF bombers have been dispatched for test missions,” the source said.

Sources said more than 30 MILF trainees completed their training on explosives in Basilan last month.

The MILF’s 114th Base Command is based in Basilan.

“Following their graduation, these newly trained MILF bombers, in several teams, were dispersed in several areas for their test missions,” the source said.

Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, who is from Bukidnon, reiterated his call for the re-imposition of the death penalty in the country following the recent acts of violence recorded in Mindanao. Zubiri said that the perpetrators of the bombing as well as the rape of a nurse in Maguindanao should be meted the death penalty.

Sen. Francis Escudero noted that the security situation in Cotabato has been deteriorating in the past few weeks so authorities must rein in the peace and order situation there.

Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr. expressed outrage over the bombing incident and called on authorities to apprehend the perpetrators swiftly.

Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Talio-Mendoza condemned the bus bombing, saying it was a cowardly act by lawless elements targeting innocent and helpless civilians.

Edith Regalado, Philippine Star
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