THE Philippine National Police yesterday condemned the terror bombing at the South Seas Mall l in Cotabato City on New Year’s Eve which killed 2 civilians and wounded 34 others including 5 minors in an attack which raised nationwide outrage.
AS of 10:30 a.m. yesterday, 3 of the 34 persons wounded in the Cotabato City mall bombing were scheduled to undergo surgery, 7 are still in hospital but have been declared out of danger while 24 with minor injuries were released after treatment, said PNP spokesman Senior Superintendent Benigno Durana.
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, was among the more than a dozen suspects charged last September over bomb attacks in the region last August 28 and September 2.
Multiple murder and multiple frustrated murder charges 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 Philippine National Police strongly condemns these despicable acts of violence perpetrated by unknown elements in Cotabato City that, based on initial reports, resulted in the death of 2 civilians and wounding of 34 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 to 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 2nd and 3rd IED, the 2nd at the main explosion site and the 3rd at the mall’s 2nd floor baggage counter shortly after the 1st explosion which took place 1:49 p.m. Monday.
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.
Twenty-four others were also brought to the CRMC for treatment while 6 were taken to the CMHS. Another 4 were brought to the Notre Dame Hospital while 3 were taken to the United Doctors Hospital. Another was brought to the Cotabato Sanitarium Hospital.
Police said that the blast occurred while members of the Cotabato City Police Station led by Senior Inspector Romel Canto were on patrol in front of the Land Bank of the Philippines.
No group has admitted responsibility yet for the bombing as of press time although police are looking into all possible suspects and their motives behind the attack including terror attack and plain extortion.
Immediately, the officers cordoned the area, secured the people and flashed an alarm to all concerned units. Other members of the Cotabato City Police Office headed by Senior Supt. Rolly Octavio also rushed to scene to restore order and keep people from panicking.
Rasco said that bomb disposal experts who scoured the site recovered a white plastic gallon containing around a kilo of 1-inch concrete nails and low explosive black powder which is believe to be the possible explosive charge.
A subsequent paneling led in the discovery of another IED around 2:40 p.m. at the baggage counter located at the mall’s 2nd floor which was immediately disrupted by explosives experts.
The ID was fashioned out from ½-in nails and metal ball bearings and contained a 9-volt battery, a blasting cap, leg wires and a slide switch.