Muslim convert, 3 charged for Hilongos, Leyte bombings
PALO, Leyte — A 26-year-old Muslim convert, believed to belong to the terrorist Maute group, was one of the four suspects charged for the twin bombings in Hilongos town, Leyte, that wounded 32 people in December.
The multiple frustrated murder charges against Jake Anthony Macuto, who also goes by his Muslim name Yusuf, and his three unidentified companions were filed at the prosecutor’s office in Leyte, Leyte on Feb. 22, almost two months after the bombings at the Rizal Park rocked the sleepy town of Hilongos on Dec. 28, 2016.
At least 32 persons – 10 of them children – were hurt when two improvised explosive devices (IED) went off while more than 1,000 people were watching an amateur boxing fight in celebration of the town fiesta.
Macuto was identified following an “extensive police and intelligence work” with the help of the witnesses, said Chief Supt. Elmer Beltejar, police director for Eastern Visayas, in a news conference on Thursday.
Macuto, 26, reportedly stayed in Barangay Conception, Hilongos, before staging the bombings.
He was also known to have lived in Cavite and in Lanao del Sur where he could have been recruited to the Maute Group, tagged as the terrorist group with a link with the ISIS or Islamic State.
Police investigation showed that Macuto planted the IED of an 81-mm mortar near the stage. The other IED was located under the water tank.
The same kind of explosives was found by the authorities during the foiled bombing on the United States Embassy in Manila on November 28.
Asked what was the reason for bombing a small town like Hilongos, Belterjar said Macuto might just be on a test mission.
Hilongos, a fourth class town 146 kilometers away from the regional center of Tacloban City, has a Muslim community residing in Barangay Conception. They are mostly traders.
Supt. Allan Cuevillas, head of the special task group created to solve the first bombing in Eastern Visayas in recent years, said some of the local Muslims helped them identify Macuto.
He said Macuto converted under the influence of his mother who worked in the Middle East.
Macuto reportedly conducted some preaching and recruitment activities in the region, notably in Eastern Samar, in 2015, Cuevillas said.
“But we can assure you that there is no cell of the Maute Group in the region,” he said.
Beltejar said that they have been monitoring Muslim converts across Eastern Visayas as they could be recruited by a terrorist group.
“The Muslim converts are the ones who are being tapped by the Maute Group because they are the ones who are more aggressive,” he said.
Beltejar said they learned that new recruits were being paid in exchange for their involvement with the terrorist group.– (With a report from Vicky Arnaiz, INQ) SFM
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