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MILF denounces Cotabato mall blast; military sees terror hand

Cotabato City—The Moro Islamic Liberation Front has added its voice to those condemning the bomb attack that killed two persons and wounded 31 others along a busy thoroughfare outside a mall on Monday.

At the same time, the Bangsamoro Transition Commission under MILF first vice chairman Ghazzali Jaafar urged the Office of the President to direct national law enforcement agencies to help determine the real perpetrators of the bomb attack and bring them to justice.

In an official statement sent to news organizations, MILF Chairman Hadji Murad Ibrahim said the MILF “condemns in the highest possible terms” Monday’s bomb attack.

“The dastardly act of [placing] an improvised explosive device [IED] with intent to kill or harm civilians is an act of cowardice, inhuman, and atrocious,” Murad said.

Murad called on “concerned authorities to sincerely and thoroughly investigate this evil act”—saying that ascribing any motive would be too premature at this time.

“We ask the authorities to examine all angles and make the result of the same public. We should not allow any party or group to make premature conclusions or draw insinuations so as to advance their own personal interest and political agenda,” he said.

He said the MILF sympathizes with the victims, and that the families of the fatalities and the wounded deserved true justice.

He said it is for the reason of securing the community that the MILF and the government, together with all their partners in the peace process, have pushed hard for the passage of Bangsamoro Organic Law” to establish a “government that can really protect and promote the peace and security of the place and its peoples.”

In a BTC statement, Jaafar said it was unfortunate that one of the fatalities was an employee--Jonathan Torribiano, who was a driver for BTC Commissioner Melanio Ulama.

Lawyer Naguib Sinarimbo, secretary-general of the MILF’s United Bangsamoro Justice Party, said while residents should be thankful for a prompt defusing of “explosives found in the baggage counter of the mall,” reports falsely identified Nur Misuari, founding chairman of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) as the owner of the South Seas Mall.

Sinarimbo said residents knew that the mall is not owned by Misuari but by the Lim family, who have been engaged in legitimate businesses after settling in Tawi-Tawi in the early 1960s when Misuari was still virtually unknown.

Military officials said they believed the Islamic State-linked Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters had a hand in the bombing.

Among those injured in Monday’s bombing, which came at about 2 p.m., were 10 minors, according to Maj. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, the commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division (ID).

He said an initial investigation led to the BIFF, which has shifted to attacking non-combatants, starting with the twin bombings in Isulan in September 2018.

“We are not discounting the possibility that the Daesh-inspired group was responsible in the bombing,” Sobejana said.

Senior Supt. Rolly Octavio, city police director, said police are reviewing the closed circuit TV (CCTV) camera footage taken at South Seas Mall to help identify the perpetrators.

“Our authorities have the information about the suspects, as to the motive, that is being determined,” Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi said in a news conference some two hours after the blast.

Octavio said bomb experts recovered about one kilo of cut nails, a plastic container with traces of black powder and broken parts of a mobile phone at the blast site.

In a follow-up operation inside the mall, police found another bomb in the second-floor baggage counter left by a still unidentified man.

“A CCTV captured the man’s facial features,” Octavio said.

Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the 00Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao also condemned the attack, calling those behind it “evil.”

“We are irrevocably grieved about the casualties incurred, thoroughly condemn this act, and call for a thorough investigation. We need to make sure acts like these never happen again, and that the perpetrator is brought to justice,” Hataman said in a statement released Monday.

Cotabato City, though not part of ARMM, hosts the administrative center of the region through its Shariff Kabunsuan Complex here.

Hataman urged investigators to look deeply into the case and ensure that civilians do not get caught up in terror.

“We cannot afford to be divisive at this moment. Only by melding together can we bring about peace and justice,” he said.

He urged civil leaders and security officials to remain united.

“What we need is to be composed, to redouble our efforts, and to hold on to our dream of peace in the region. We cannot be divided on this front,” Hataman added.

The Japanese government and the European Union on Tuesday stood in solidarity with the Philippines following the mall bombing.

As a country “strongly condemning violent extremism,” Japan stands in solidarity with the government and the people of the Philippines, Japanese Ambassador Koji Haneda said in a statement.

EU Ambassador Franz Jessen, meanwhile, said his thoughts and prayers go to the victims as he reiterated the bloc’s support to the ongoing peace process in Mindanao.

“The EU fully supports the ongoing peace process in Mindanao. I frequently visit Cotabato and am impressed each time by the progress made, and the commitment of my counterparts to build a better future for the region. Peace and reconciliation is the way forward. Violence and hatred will never succeed,” he said in a separate statement.

“The New Year brings new hope to us all, and we stand together with the Philippine government in its efforts to make the country more peaceful and safer,” he added. With PNA

READ: PNP arrests 8 suspects in Lamitan bombing

READ: Government foils another bombing attempt

Topics: Moro Islamic Liberation Front , bomb attack , Bangsamoro Transition Commission , Ghazzali Jaafar
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