DEPARTMENT of Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo M. Año yesterday described the New Year’s Eve bombing in a mall in Cotabato City as an ‘isolated case’ being thoroughly addressed by security forces.
The bombing which killed two people and injured 34 others, as well as the presence of known terror groups in the region is a matter being regarded with deep concern by the government specifically the Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police , the official said.
Sec. Año issued the statement in response to the United Kingdom government’s advice to its citizens not to travel to Western and Central Mindanao as well as Sulu province ‘because of terrorist activity and clashes between security forces and terrorists.’
He explained that there is no need for foreign governments to issue a travel advisory in Mindanao areas because incidents of explosions and presence of terror groups are purely isolated ones.
In Central Visayas, the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency Region 7 office and the Police Regional Office 7 headed by Chief Superintendent Debold M. Sinas said there are no monitored threats of terrorism or plans to carry out terrorist activities from known terror groups in Region 7.
The assurance was made relative to the United Kingdom travel advisory in Southern Cebu, Siquijor province and Dumaguete City.
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.
The DILG chief admitted the existence of terror groups as well as the New People’s Army in Mindanao but made it clear that they are isolated in certain parts of the region, thus, there is no need for foreign governments to issue travel advisories and generalize the existence of threat in the entire region.
Año also gave the assurance that the government is doing its best to keep Mindanao safe, the very best measure of which is the extended martial law in the region aimed at arresting the flow of illegal firearms and private armed groups and other lawless elements in the region.
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 have been killed in recent anti-crime and anti-terror operations by security forces in the region.
Hassan is a known bomb-maker, 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.
Durana also said that the extended martial law in Mindanao has probably stopped the terrorists from carrying out more attacks in the region.