COTABATO CITY—Suspected extortionists with links to terror groups bombed a bus in Carmen, North Cotabato, on Wednesday, killing three passengers and wounding five others, the military said.
The bomb went off on the bus as it was about to enter a terminal in Carmen, said Col. Leopoldo Galon, speaking for the Eastern Mindanao Command.
Among the five wounded were two children aged 6 and 11 years, he said.
He said extortion gangs have been suspected in previous attacks targeting bus companies in the region.
One gang identified as Al Khobar has been mentioned as among those operating in the area, but it was not clear if it was behind the bus bombings.
A bomb at the same terminal in 2010 killed one man and wounded two others, and a month before that, 10 passengers died in a bomb targeting the same bus company.
Col. Benjie Hao, head of the 7th Infantry Battalion based in Carmen, said the blast victims were bound for Cagayan de Oro on board a bus owned by the firm Rural Transit that came from Tacurong City.
Buses belonging to Rural Transit have been bombed in the past when the transport firm refused to heed extortion demands.
Galon said the bus was nearing the terminal past 10 a.m. when the blast occurred.
The dead were identified as passengers Rona Mae Causing, 18; Gladzin Hampiso, 10; and Dima Causing, 62.
The five wounded passengers were taken to Kabacan Medical Specialist, a small hospital in Kabacan town. Two of them were identified as Alan Hampiso and Hannah Janel Cosca. Hampiso’s 6-year-old son was also among the wounded.
No one has claimed responsibility for the blast. Authorities initially blamed extortion groups operating in North Cotabato.
Supt. Rogelio Salinas, the North Cotabato police director, said the suspect was a man who boarded the bus between Kabacan and Carmen.
Salinas said the suspect disembarked before the bus reached the Carmen terminal.
“We discourage bus drivers from picking up passengers in between bus terminals to avoid things like these,” Salinas said.
He said Rural Transit has been receiving extortion letters from unidentified groups.
Muslim rebels and criminal gangs are behind decadeslong unrest in many parts of Mindanao, home to minority Muslims.
Hundreds of US troops have been stationed in Mindanao as part of a program to train Filipino troops to fight militants. Edwin Fernandez, Inquirer Mindanao