Suicide bombing eyed in Basilan attack
ZAMBOANGA CITY — In what could be the first suicide bombing in the country, a powerful blast killed at least 11 people and wounded nine others early on Tuesday in Lamitan City, Basilan province, raising fears of more such attacks.
Vice Mayor Roderick Furigay said only 10 were killed when the bomb in the vehicle blew up a few meters from the Magwakit Patrol Base of the 19th Special Forces Company at Bulanting village.
“We don’t count the life of a demon,” an angry Furigay told the Inquirer, referring to the bomber.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a former national police chief, said the blast could be the “first known suicide bombing case in the Philippines,” representing a new type of threat that might spread to urban centers if left unchecked.
“If it can be established that it was indeed a case of suicide bombing . . . it is frightening to say the least as, and God forbid, it could start a trend of a series of such terroristic acts that could hit other highly populated urban centers,” he said in a text message to the Inquirer.
Lacson, chair of the Senate public order committee, said the bombing “should prod government to step up intelligence and security capabilities to address this new deadly threat.”
The military immediately tried to douse speculations that the blast was a suicide attack.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson, Col. Edgard Arevalo, said security forces were still investigating and so far, there was no basis to conclude that the incident was a suicide bombing or was carried out by a foreigner as early reports indicated.
“It is possible that the driver detonated the IED (improvised explosive device). It is possible that the bomb was accidentally set off by the cell phones of the people manning the checkpoint. There are many possibilities but we do not want to speculate,” he said.
Lt. Col. Gerry Besana, the public affairs officer of Western Mindanao Command, said it was premature to say who was responsible for the attack.
“Let us [just call them], peace spoiler,” he said. “We cannot [immediately] say it’s the Abu Sayyaf or IS (Islamic State) because once we identified this [attack] to their group, it would be like praising them.”
One soldier, five militiamen and four civilians, including a mother and her child, were killed in the blast, military officials said. The driver, the only person in the van, also was killed.
“It’s an indiscriminate attack,” Roque said. “Under IHL (international humanitarian law), you must limit your attacks pursuant to military objectives. You must limit it to military targets. You must avoid protected individuals, including civilians.”
Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon said if the blast proved to be a suicide attack, this would indicate “a leveling up of terrorism in the country, opening up a whole new dimension on how the government’s forces will prevent and pursue terrorism.”
Biazon said authorities should check if the real target was the checkpoint or if the attack was a “test mission” to recruit and train extremists to carry out other attacks.
It could also have been a botched mission that was intended for a bigger target, he added.
Furigay said the bomb could have been intended for a parade of more than 3,000 schoolchildren in the center of the city, about two kilometers from Bulanting, later on Tuesday morning to celebrate the culmination of a nutrition program.
He called the militiamen and soldiers who stopped the van “heroes” for preventing what could have been massive casualties.
‘Like a 500-pound bomb’
Col. Montano Almodovar, commander of the 3rd Scout Ranger Battalion, said the explosion happened around 5:45 a.m., just a few meters away from the checkpoint manned by militiamen and Scout Ranger and Special Forces troops.
“It was a powerful explosion,” Almodovar said. “It was like a 500-pound bomb that was rigged in the van.”
He said the militiamen decided to stop the van when they saw “two big containers and big kettles with wires inside.”
He said the driver “looked more like a foreigner and could not speak the local dialect.”
The militiamen requested assistance from their superiors because they could not communicate with the driver, Almodovar said.
“Our Rangers were proceeding to the area. When they were about 20 meters distance, the van went off,” he said.
Abu Sayyaf plot
Some farm animals also were killed in the blast, which obliterated the van and gouged a small crater on the ground.
Arevalo told reporters the AFP had received intelligence information that the Abu Sayyaf group under Furuji Indama was planning to bomb various parts of Basilan.
“This terrorist group of Furuji Indama is losing ground, swiftly losing ground. That’s why they are now resorting to this desperate moves in order to disrupt the mass surrenders of ASG members in Basilan and in Sulu,” he said.
In June, more than 200 Abu Sayyaf men surrendered in Basilan, according to Maj. Gen. Juvymax Uy, head of the antiterror Joint Task Force Basilan.
Uy estimated that at least 40 remained in the Basilan group, too small to affect peace and order in the province. —With reports from Bong Sarmiento, Leila B. Salaverria, Jeannette I. Andrade, Julius N. Leonen And Julie M. Aurelio In Manila; and the wires
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