AN operative of a terror group in Mindanao with alleged links to ISIS, has been tagged as the perpetrator of the explosion at the plaza in front of the General Santos City Hall on Tuesday night that injured seven people, a source told the Manila Standard on Wednesday.
The military, however, did not confirm the claim but said the bombing “signature” points to the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters The source, who claimed to be working for the government, identified the suspect as alias Malik, whom witnesses saw walking away from the Rizal Monument in front of the city hall moments before a blast at around 7:30 p.m. ripped the front portion of the monument’s foundation, the source said.
Malik, 22, is believed to be a protege of Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli Abdul Hir, alias Marwan, who was first believed killed in an anti-terror air strike in 2012, but turned out to still be alive.
Another source said Zulkifli is reportedly the head of the Kumpulun Mujahidin Malaysia terror group and is a key leader of the Jemaah Islamiyah which had trained Abu Sayyaf jihadists in bomb-making and other terrorist activities.
Zulkifli and Malik are also believed to be linked with the the Khalifa Islamiah Mindanao, a group that serves as an umbrella organization of the Jemaah Islamiyah, the Abu Sayyaf and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters. KIM has recently adopted the black flag of the Islamic State, the source added.
Last year, former military chief Gen. Emmanuel Bautista confirmed that rogue elements from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Abu Sayyaf had joined KIM. The group was tagged as behind the July 27, 2013 bombing in Cagayan de Oro City which killed eight people and injured several others.
The source said the General Santos explosion was not meant to hurt anyone, but it happened while a four-day international conference on anti-terrorism sponsored by the Australian Federal Police and backed by the United States Homeland Security, was taking place in Cebu City.
According to sources, Malik lived in Basilan and was only 15 years old at around the time the KIM was being established in the country.
The KIM is believed to be operating under the auspices of the Islamic State, which is currently sowing terror in Syria and Iraq and has allegedly recruited young Filipinos to join their jihad.
But Maj. Gen. Eduardo Año, former chief of the Intelligence Service of the AFP and now commander of the Army’s 10th Infantry Division, tried to downplay the bombing as “an isolated incident” but conceded that the bomb signature appeared to be that of the BIFF.
“Based on the signature of the (improvised explosive device), it looks like there’s a connection to the BIFF, the group of [Abdul] Basit Usman which is involved in extortion,” Año said.
Basit is a Filipino jihadist believed to have been killed by a US drone strike in Pakistan in 2010, where he was with Taliban and other foreign fighters.
Ano made the statement on the same day that Chief Peace Adviser Teresita Deles told lawmakers at a budget hearing in the Senate that the estimated 1,000 members of the BIFF are “well contained,” citing successful military operations that captured the rebels’ camps in Maguindanao.
When the MILF abandoned its armed stuggle for independence in exchange for widers powers for the new Bangsamoro entity, disgruntled members left the group and formed the BIFF to continue the fight. Usman is supposedly a former member of the MILF special operations group, according to Año.
But Año is not discounting extortion as the motive behind the attack and that Usman may be delivering a “fair warning” to their victims.
He said the attack was not meant to inflict maximum damage. The bomb was placed in the monument of national hero Jose Rizal, which is populated at day time but not at night.
Año said he believes that the purpose of the bombing was to make the presence of the group felt in General Santos City.
An earlier report said eight people were hurt in the incident, but Año clarified there were only seven civilians wounded. All are in stable condition.
Five of the victims, who are mostly students, were identified as Sarah Arquiza, Marlon Fajada, Christian Paul Amimong, Jay Magnanao and Joan Michelle Abranilla, all of whom were brought to the St. Elizabeth Hospital.
The two other victims identified as James Abreo and Geraldine Ilon were rushed to the City Hospital.
The Red Cross, meanwhile, said it treated two persons identified as Andy Galapon and Shiela Maginda for minor injuries.
Police said only two of the victims -- Amimong and Magnanao -- are still confined at the St. Elizabeth Hospital while the rest had been released.
City Mayor Ronnel Rivera, who was on his way to Davao City when the explosion happened and had to rush back to the city, said the local government will shoulder the hospitalization and other needs of the victims.
Rivera personally inspected the blast site and later visited the victims at the St. Elizabeth Hospital and the City Hospital.
The mayor directed city police personnel and other law enforcement units to speed up the investigation of the incident and identify the possible suspects.
But while sources said the bombing maybe the handiwork of a terrorist group, police authorities are looking at several other angles behind the incident.
Supt. Rolly Octavio, deputy city police director for administration, said Wednesday their investigation is still ongoing in connection with the blast.
An official statement issued by the City Police Office, Army-led Joint Task Force GenSan and the city government declared that the explosion was caused by a grenade.
“As of now, no shrapnel or fragments have been found. Investigation is still continuing as to the motives and culprits of the crime,” the statement said.
But Octavio said they could not yet make any conclusion as to the type of explosive that was used in the attack.
“We’re still determining what type of explosive was used and its materials. We don’t want to speculate as to the motive and the identity of the suspects so we’re considering all possible angles.”
He said they will continue with the post-blast investigation on Wednesday morning after it was temporarily suspended late Tuesday due to the rains.
Octavio said personnel from the Region 12 police’s crime laboratory and members of explosives ordnance disposal (EOD) teams of the city police and the Philippine Army will conduct another sweep of the blast site to locate any shrapnel and other evidence.
He said the result of the blast site investigation will establish the type of explosive that was used in the attack and if they contain “signatures” of terror groups, he said.
After the site investigation, he said they will proceed with the gathering of statements from witnesses, especially those present at the scene of the attack.
He said city police director, Senior Supt. Froilan Quidilla, also directed investigators to secure footages from closed-circuit television cameras set up near the site to assist their investigation. With PNA, Rappler
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