Hunt on for 2 men in MSU bombing
MANILA, Philippines — The police are now pursuing two men who allegedly planted the bomb that exploded inside the Mindanao State University (MSU) gym in Marawi City on Sunday, killing four and wounding more than 50 people.
In a press briefing in Camp Crame on Wednesday, Philippine National Police spokesperson Col. Jean Fajardo identified the suspects as Kadapi Mimbesa, 35, alias “Engineer,” “Kadi” and “Akoya;” and Arsani Membisa alias “Khatab,” “Hatab” and “Lapitos,” said to be members of the Daulah Islamiyah-Maute Group, a local affiliate of the terrorist network Islamic State (IS).
The two were identified by survivors of the explosion, as well as through backtracking investigation of the police using security camera footage that captured the vicinity of the gym.
The suspects were seen arriving in the area aboard a motorcycle at 6:27 a.m., and left shortly before the explosion.
Mimbesa, tagged as the group’s “IED (improvised explosive device) expert,” was the person allegedly carrying a bag that contained a 60-millimeter mortar coupled with a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG).
“Before the explosion, the two suspects were seen going out of the MSU [gym]. One of them (Mimbesa) called using his cellphone, which might have triggered the IED. They immediately left afterward,” Fajardo said.
Both men, Fajardo added, have standing warrants of arrest—Mimbesa for kidnapping and serious illegal detention, and illegal possession of explosives, and Membisa for murder.
According to Fajardo, the two were also involved in previous bombing incidents in Mindanao.
“In fact, the fragments of the 60-mm mortar and RPG we recovered during the MSU explosion has the same signature with the explosives used in toppling an NGCP (National Grid Corporation of the Philippines) tower in Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte [in September], where one of our responding police officers died,” she said.
According to Fajardo, Brig. Gen. Allan Nobleza, the police director of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), is closely coordinating with the Armed Forces of the Philippines for the “diligent” arrest of the suspects.
“Although [the BARMM police] declined to give us specifics, they said they were actively pursuing these two suspects and their other possible cohorts,” she said.
Two other men are being pursued on suspicion that they served as “lookouts” and accomplices of the suspects.
In Sultan Kudarat province, Gov. Pax Ali Mangudadatu offered a P1-million reward from the provincial government’s coffers for any information that could lead to the identification and eventual arrest of the bombing suspects.
“We intensely condemn this barbaric, terroristic and inhumane act,” Mangudadatu said, adding that he hoped the reward would help hasten the resolution of the case and bring justice to the victims.
MSU students and faculty declared Wednesday as a day of mourning for those who died in the explosion, following the prayer vigil and candle lighting they held on Tuesday outside the Mohammad Ali B. Dimaporo Gymnasium, where the bombing took place.
During the 5 p.m. prayer vigil to mourn and offer prayers for the victims, the MSU students also urged authorities to make the campus safe and secure and prevent another violence from happening in the future.
“We listened to the appeal of the students for a safe, secure and peaceful university campus,” lawyer Shindik Abantas, MSU spokesperson, said.”
The management has installed safety protocols during the gathering. MSU management has ensured that the university’s security force is coordinating with the [PNP], the Philippine Army to secure the entire campus,” he added.
Abantas said that about 1,000 students had left the campus for fear of their security following Sunday’s bombing.
Fajardo said police and military personnel were tapped to secure the MSU Marawi campus.
While she clarified that this was a temporary setup, the BARMM police officials were eyeing to make it a “permanent arrangement” to allay the fears of the teachers, parents and students.
The police and military are still validating the claim of local IS affiliates that they were behind the attack.