COTABATO CITY – Military and police officials look at a group inspired by the Islamic state as possible behind the blast that killed two people and injured more than 30 others outside a mall here on New Year's Eve.
General General Cirilito Sobejana, commander of the 6th Infantry Division of the army, said the attack was apparently a retaliation for the offensive of his unit against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and a group that had separated from it, the Daulah Islamiyah.
Both groups have sworn allegiance to the jihadist group of the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria.
A homemade bomb full of cut nails and ball bearings went off to the baggage counter at the entrance to South Seas Mall along Don Rufino Alonzo Avenue at 1:59 am. on Monday, killing the driver of a member of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) and a woman who was about to enter the mall.
The fatalities were identified Tuesday as Jonathan Tasic Torribiano, 39, director of BTC Commissioner Melanio Ulama, and Miriam Wahab Kali, 31, of Barangay Poblacion 2, Cotabato City.
Malacañang swore that justice would be served.
"We live with the families, relatives and friends of those who suffered from this unfortunate event, and we promise that we will get through to the end as soon as possible," President Salvador Panelo said in a statement.
The bomb went off when people at the last moment shopped for the traditional New Year celebrations.
Officials said Tuesday that 34 other people were injured during the explosion. Three of them were in critical condition, they said.
Scattered debris, including objects sold for old and new festivities, such as horns made of cardboard and plastic, gifts and a bloody slipper at the entrance to the mall.
Windows of surrounding buildings were shattered by the blast.
Sobejana said that a man had been seen carrying a box that he had left behind the shopping mall at the mall. It exploded a few seconds later.
The explosion led the police to search the mall, which led to the discovery of a new bomb, which they destroyed, Chief Insp said. Rowell Zafra, spokesperson for the local police.
Sobejana said that the bomb that went off had the signature of the Daulah Islamiyah.
He said the army had a number of "leads" in the attack but did not work out.
Abu Misry Mama, spokesperson for the BIFF and the Daulah Islamiyah, said Tuesday that neither of the groups had a hand.
Senior Supt. Rolly Octavio, city police director, said that researchers viewed photos taken by security cameras in the mall for leads.
Octavio said that a security camera captured the image of the man who left the second bomb at the shopping center's luggage desk.
He said that bomb experts have recovered about a kilogram of cut nails, a plastic tray with traces of black powder and mobile phone parts.
Mayor Cotabato, Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi, claimed Tuesday that the authorities had "information about the suspects", but had to determine the motive for the attack.
Sayadi said the city was locked up, with a "no ID, no mention" policy being enforced at checkpoints and all points of exit and entry into the city.
A militant Moro group rejected the theory of the army.
Jerome Succor Aba, a spokesperson for Suara Bangsamoro, said the rush to accuse IS-inspired militants, even before an investigation, would justify a military takeover of Cotabato City and other areas with a Muslim majority in Mindanao, while residents prepared for a plebiscite to ratify the proposed charter of a new Islamic autonomous region on the island.
The popular vote for the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), which would establish the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, is scheduled for January 21 and February 6.
Aba said that a military takeover could limit the campaign for the plebiscite or even lead to the cancellation of the vote for security reasons.
Lieutenant General Benjamin Madrigal, Chief of Staff of the Philippines Armed Forces, condemned the bomb attack and assured full military cooperation with the Philippine national police in the investigation of the attack.
In response to the criticism that the explosion took place despite the extension of martial law in Mindanao for another year, Colonel Noel Detoyato, head of the AFP's Public Affairs Office, said "It could have been worse without the state of siege."
President Duterte placed Mindanao under martial law in May 2017 to crush IS-inspired local terrorists who seized Marawi City in Lanao del Sur province.
The Congress extended the military administration on the island three times at the request of the President, the latter until 31 December 2019.
Government Mujiv Hataman of the autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao called the perpetrators of the explosion & # 39; bad & # 39; and urged residents of the region to pray for the population of Cotabato City.
"Malicious acts like these will be punished in this world and the next, while all good deeds will be rewarded," said Hataman.
Murad Ebrahim, head of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, who signed a peace agreement with the government and leads the campaign for the ratification of the proposed Bangsamoro charter, also condemned the attack and described it as "an act of cowardice, inhuman and hideous . " – WITH REPORTS FROM JEANNETTE I. ANDRADE, MART SAMBALUD, JEOFFREY MAITEM, JULIE M. AURELIO AND AFP
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