Authorities are looking at terrorism and extortion as possible motives in the bus bombing that left 10 people dead and 42 others injured in Maramag, Bukidnon, on Tuesday, security officials said Wednesday.
Lieutenant General Aurelio Baladad, chief of the Armed Forces’ Eastern Mindanao Command, said investigation showed that the bomb had the “signature,” or make, similar to those assembled by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
“‘Yung lumitaw, ‘yun na nga, ang signature ng bomb is BIFF,” Baladad told reporters by phone.Another military official, who requested anonymity, said the make of the bomb – an 81-millimeter mortar ammunition detonated with a cellphone – points to the group of one Dawtin Gendang of the BIFF.
Gendang and new “graduates” of the BIFF appeared to have carried out the attack on the Rural Transit Mindanao Inc. (RTMI) bus as “test mission,” the official told reporters.
Gendang was previously identified as a suspect in the bombing of another RTMI bus that injured four people last November 6, Inspector Jiselle Longakit, Bukidnon provincial police spokesperson, said.The BIFF, according to the military, has links with bomb expert Abdul Basit Usman who is connected with the regional terror network Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and is wanted by both the Philippines and United States.
The group has also recently expressed support to the Middle East-based jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Tuesday’s explosion occurred inside an RTMI bus around 5:40 p.m. while it was passing through Maramag, on the way to Cagayan de Oro City.
Police said on Tuesday that the bus came from Wao, Lanao del Sur, but stated on Wednesday that it came from Banisilan, North Cotabato.
The blast happened in front of the main gate of the Central Mindanao University (CMU), shortly after the bus picked up passengers at a nearby bus stop.
The blast killed Kim Valiente, 17; Anita Santillan, 54; Marielle Achacoso, 17; Niezel Dee Gonzaga, 22; Catherine Villahermosa, Johnrey Valdesco, John Bernard Cuhanap, Jonathan Balida, Michael Buctos, and a still unidentified person. Some of them are students of CMU.
Forty-two other persons, some of whom are also CMU students, were hurt and taken to different hospitals.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, in a statement, called the bombing a “barbaric” act and called on people to help authorities identify the attackers.
“We condole with the families of the victims of this tragic incident. The DND thru the AFP is in full support and cooperation with the PNP to get to the bottom of this barbaric act,” Gazmin said.
The defense chief declined to say what angles are being looked into, stating that the DND was still waiting for results of the investigation.
Longakit said investigators are initially looking at extortion as a possible motive but have not set aside terrorism.
“We are still coordinating with the bus company on that (extortion angle),” she said, adding that terrorism has “not yet” been ruled out.
A statement released later by the provincial police said the management of RTMI “refused to give extortion fee,” but did not point to any group. (John Roson)
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