THE Police Regional Office 12 Special Investigation Task Group created to probe the New Year’s Eve bombing in a Cotabato City mall which killed two persons and injured 34 others yesterday released the photos of two men believed to have carried out the attack.
The suspects who remained unidentified were caught by CCTV cameras installed at the South Seas Mall in Cotabato City moments before the deadly explosion.
One of the suspects was caught leaving the improvised explosive device at the mall while the other served as a ‘lookout.’
The bomb carrier was seen wearing a blue t-shirt and carried a backpack while the ‘lookout’ sported a green shirt. Police released the pictures of the two lifted from the CCTV footage hoping that the public can give them information that would lead to the capture of the bombers.
A P500,000 reward has been offered by the Cotabato City local government for the capture of the suspects.
Security officials maintained that the blast in Cotabato City was the handiwork of a breakaway faction of a secessionist group based only in Mindanao and whose motive is to retaliate against ongoing military offensive against them which have caused them major losses.
Officials placed the terror threat level in Central Visayas at a ‘moderate level’ and said that enough security measures are already in place in all places of convergence including airports, seaports and bus terminals to prevent any terror plot as early as before Christmas.
Western Mindanao covers the provinces of Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, Zamboanga City and Isabela City in Basilan province.
On the other hand, Central Mindanao covers the provinces of Cotabato, Sarangani, South Cotabato, and Sultan Kudarat, as well as Cotabato City and General Santos City.
Police are eyeing an ISIS-inspired terror group in the bombing of the South Seas Mall in Cotabato City. “Most probably, an ISIS-inspired local terror group was behind the attack,” said PNP spokesman, Chief Superintendent Benigno B. Durana Jr. without elaborating.
Journal Group sources also said that investigators are looking into the possibility that the bombing could be the handiwork of the group of one Salahuddin Hassan whose son and brother had been killed in recent anti-crime and anti-terror operations by security forces in the region.
Hassan is a known bombmaker, who along with Esmael Abdulmalik alias ‘Abu Toraife of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters were among the more than a dozen suspects charged last September in connection with bomb attacks in the region last August 28 and September 2.
Charges of multiple murder and multiple frustrated murder were filed against the suspects by the police. Hassan was identified by security agents as having been trained in bomb-making by slain Southeast Asia’s most wanted terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan, the main target of a top-secret PNP Special Action Force operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao in January 2015 which killed 44 SAF commandos.
The PNP condemned the terror bombing which drew nationwide outrage.
“The Philippine National Police strongly condemns these despicable acts of violence perpetrated by by unknown elements in Cotabato City that, based on initial reports, resulted to the death of two civilians and wounding of 32 others five of them minors.
We sincerely express our deep sympathy and offer our fervent prayers to the families of those killed and injured even as we vow to mobilize all available resources in order to quickly bring to the bars of justice those responsible for these cowardly attacks against innocent civilians,” said PNP chief, Director General Oscar D. Albayalde in a press statement.
The PNP chief has ordered the creation of a Special Investigation Task Group to get into the bottom of the incident. “We appeal to the public to remain calm but watchful and to immediately report to authorities (PRO12 Hotline Numbers: 09219898174; 09266500628) any information that may lead us to the suspects and help us crack this case,” he said.
The PRO12 headed by Chief Superintendent Eliseo T. Rasco said the suspects planted a powerful improvised explosive device that ripped through stalls selling firecrackers in front of the shopping mall.
Bomb disposal experts also found a second IED at the mall’s 2nd floor baggage counter shortly after the first explosion.
Two of the victims identified as Jonathan Toribiano, a resident of Barangay Darugao in North Upi, Cotabato City and Mariam Wahab Kali, a 31-year old housekeeper from Poblacion 2, also in Cotabato City died while being taken to the Cotabato Regional and Medical Center and Cotabato Medical Special Hospital respectively.