COTABATO CITY—Authorities said they had prevented what could have been a bloody Friday morning in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao, with the timely discovery and defusion of a twin bomb planted just outside the sentry post at the town hall’s gates.
Col. Prudencio Asto, civil-military operations officer of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division based in Datu Odin, Maguindanao, said the twin bomb was fashioned from two 81-millimeter mortar shells and was fitted with a mobile phone as trigger mechanism.
Senior Supt. Jaime Pido, Maguindanao police chief, said the twin bomb was concealed inside a backpack and was discovered by soldiers returning from another foot patrol around 12:30 a.m.
“It was found at the gates of the town hall in Shariff Aguak proper by elements of the 1st Mechanized Infantry Brigade,” Asto said.
He said Army bomb experts had safely recovered the twin improvised explosive device (IED) and had safely defused it.
Asto said the military was convinced that the IED was meant for soldiers, who gather at the main gates of the town hall’s compound, after every patrol activity.
Soldiers had been deployed in Shariff Aguak to beef up the police’s capability as the manhunt for suspects still at large in connection with the November 2009 massacre of more than 50 people, including 32 journalists, continues.
But contrary to Asto’s statement, Pido said the police believed that the bomb was connected to the extortion activities targeting bus companies plying the Cotabato-Tacurong-General Santos route.
On Dec. 29, at least 15 passengers were wounded when an IED exploded aboard a Husky Bus in Isulan, Sultan Kudarat province, which borders Maguindanao.
The attack was blamed on the Al-Khobar gang, an extortion group being linked with other extremist groups such as the Abu Sayyaf.
Pido said the group might have planned another attack on buses by creating the twin bomb, which it placed just outside the Shariff Aguak town hall so that it could be easily picked up by an assigned bomber.
Pido pointed out that the area fronting the Shariff Aguak town hall also serves as a pickup point for passenger vehicles passing by the town to their destinations.
He said with the latest discovery, the police had called on bus companies anew to order their drivers to refrain from picking up passengers outside terminals or unsecured locations.
“Buses plying the Central Mindanao routes should stop picking up passengers along secluded highways,” he said. Edwin Fernandez and Charlie Señase, Inquirer Mindanao