PNP forms task group to probe Cotabato bombing; terrorism eyed

By Martin Sadongdong

The Philippine National Police (PNP) has created a special investigation task group (SITG) to hasten the investigation on a bomb incident in front of a mall in Cotabato City on New Year’s Eve, Monday, which left at least two persons dead and 34 others injured.

Of the 34 injured, three will have to undergo a medical operation due to the severity of their condition; seven were still confined in hospitals but already declared out of danger; while 24 others were already released as of 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.

PNP chief, Director General Oscar Albayalde condemned the bomb attack in front of South Seas Mall along Magallanes Street, Barangay Poblacion which investigators said were likely perpetrated by Islamic State (ISIS)-inspired local terrorist groups in Mindanao.

“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,” Albayalde said.

“I have immediately directed the creation of a special investigation task group to get into the bottom of this incident,” he added.

In a radio interview Tuesday, Chief Superintendent Benigno Durana Jr., PNP spokesperson, said that bomb experts initially found out that there is a big probability that the improvised explosive device (IED) used in the attack was created by a local terrorist group.

“Mayroon po kaming mga tinitignan (We are looking [at a few groups]) but based on the modus operandi and signature [of the IED], our investigators have initially found as a result of the post-blast investigation na ito po ay kagagawan ng (that this was perpetrated by) local terrorist group, ISIS-inspired local terrorist group,” he said.

According to initial results of the post blast investigation conducted by Cotabato police’s Explosive and Ordnance Division (EOD), a white plastic gallon believed to be used by the suspect as the container of the IED was found at the crime scene.

Police said the plastic gallon contained a kilo of one-inch concrete nails which were used as an enhancement and black powder used as a low explosive charge.

A still unidentified man was seen dropping the container amid rows of stalls in front of the mall before it exploded, police added.

After the explosion, another IED was found at the baggage counter of the mall located at the second floor.

It was successfully disrupted by bomb experts and they recovered several 1/2 inch nails and metal ball bearings as enhancement, disintegrated 9 voltz batteries, slide switch, improvised blasting cap, leg wires and led.

“Terrorism. Extremism and terror attacks coming from these extremist groups, most of them are ISIS and Daesh-inspired, itong (this) Maute Group, these are elements of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). Ito po ay kagagawan nila, sa kanilang mga signature (it’s their signature),” Durana noted.

However, Durana stated it’s a good principle in any investigation that investigators are more than one possible suspects at the early stage of the investigation.

“We are casting a wider net so that we will not be missing some areas that are usually [being missed] if you focus on only one angle,” he said.

“We narrowed down the investigation but the SITG created by the PNP based on Director General Albayalde’s directive are following a lot of leads to identify the perpetrators and arrest them, and crack this case as soon as possible,” he concluded.