photo from Zamboanga City Police Public Safety Company

photo from Zamboanga City Police Public Safety Company

The number of fatalities in the suspected car bomb explosion in Zamboanga City rose to two while the injured now stand at 52, authorities said Saturday.

This developed as it was learned that all police units in Mindanao had been placed under the highest alert status due to “threats of terrorism,” hours before the blast.

The second fatality was identified as Dennis Valiente, Zamboanga City Police director Senior Superintendent Angelito Casimiro said in a text message.

photo from Zamboanga City Police Public Safety Company

photo from Zamboanga City Police Public Safety Company

Valiente, 33, expired around 8:30 p.m. while undergoing treatment at the Western Mindanao Medical Center (WMMC), according to an emailed report from the Zamboanga Peninsula regional police.

Ten of the injured, including policeman SPO1 Sanzibal Laha Bajari, remain at the WMMC, Zamboanga City Medical Center, Ciudad Medical Center, Zamboanga Peninsula Medical Center, and the Doctors Hospital as of Saturday, according to the report.

Members of the 9th Regional Crime Laboratory Ofice are still trying to determine the type of improvised explosive that went off, Casimiro said.

photo from Zamboanga City Police Public Safety Company

photo from Zamboanga City Police Public Safety Company

The military said earlier that Friday’s 3:30 p.m. explosion came from a red Toyota sedan parked beside the Fantasy disco bar in Brgy. Guiwan.

The bar is just in front of the Guiwan bus terminal.

Members of the military’s Task Group Zamboanga (TGZ) and policemen cordoned the area while forensics teams gathered materials to determine the type of improvised explosive device that went off.

Superintendent Ariel Huesca, Zamboanga City Police spokesman, said Friday night that additional policemen from the 9th Regional Public Safety Battalion and TGZ have also been scattered in and around the city to conduct checkpoints.

photo from Zamboanga City Police Public Safety Company

photo from Zamboanga City Police Public Safety Company

The explosion occurred while government troops are conducting an offensive against the Abu Sayyaf in neighboring Basilan province.

The al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf has been blamed for several bombing incidents in Zamboanga City in the past.

Abu Sayyaf retaliation eyed

A senior police official said Saturday that the bombing in Brgy. Guiwan may have been a retaliation for a foiled attempt to spring Abu Sayyaf members from the Zamboanga City Reformatory Center.

“It’s the foiled jail escape,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

Jail guards foiled the plot on January 19, after finding three guns and more than 100 ammunition inside two cells of the ZCRC.

The firearms and ammunition, which were supposed to be used in the escape of 57 Abu Sayyaf inmates, were hidden inside two concrete stoves brought in by a woman, according to a report from the regional police.

Entire Mindanao on full alert

Meanwhile, another police official said Saturday that all police units in Mindanao had been placed under the highest alert status before the explosion in Zamboanga City.

“All of Mindanao is in full alert… It took effect Friday morning,” Northern Mindanao regional police director Chief Superintendent Agrimero Cruz said in a text message.

National Police officer-in-charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina ordered the raising of the alert status, Cruz said.

Cruz, in a statement emailed Friday night, said he directed all police units in his region to observe the status in light of “threats of terrorism” and the IED explosion in Zamboanga.

Full alert, the highest among three police alert statuses, means that all policemen in affected units should be available for duty.

The implementation of full alert in Northern Mindanao comes with “target-hardening” measures, 24/7 checkpoints, deployment of EOD and K-9 units at bus terminals, maximized police visibility in areas of convergence, and border patrols, Cruz said.

“Surprise random checkpoints are also implemented,” he said.

Northern Mindanao is connected to the Zamboanga Peninsula in the west by Misamis Occidental and Lanao del Norte.

The region’s two highly urbanized cities – Cagayan de Oro and Iligan – experienced bombings by the Abu Sayyaf and other Islamic militants in recent years.

“While the PNP enourages vigilance, the public is advised not to panic… Community members are encouraged to report suspicious individuals and activities to the nearest police station,” Cruz said in his statement. (John Roson)

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