Philippines probes possible terror link to weekend bus bombing in south

Jeoffrey Maitem
2022.04.25
Cotabato, Philippines
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Philippines probes possible terror link to weekend bus bombing in south Troops inspect a Rural Transit bus on the roadside near Dipolog city, southern Philippines, after six people were injured by a bomb explosion aboard the vehicle, April 24, 2022.
Handout photo/Armed Forces of the Philippines

At least six people were injured when a homemade bomb exploded aboard a passenger bus in a region of the southern Philippines where Muslim militants and armed groups are active, the military said Monday.

The Sunday morning bombing occurred as the Mindanao region and the rest of the nation were under tight security ahead of a general election in two weeks. It was the first such attack in the region since a 5-year-old died in a bomb explosion aboard a bus in January.

In Sunday’s explosion, the bomb went off on the Rural Transit bus while the vehicle was stopped on a highway in Parang town, Maguindanao province, en route to Dipolog city, authorities said.

The attack took place about 1 km from the police headquarters of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, said Lt. Col. Joseph Macatangay, the local chief. 

“We are investigating the incident,” he told reporters. “The victims are recuperating in the hospital.”

Local militants linked to the extremist group known as Islamic State (IS) may have carried out the bombing, said Lt. Col. John Baldomar, spokesman for the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, which has jurisdiction over the area.

“We are looking into all angles of possible motives. It could be terrorism, extortion or business-related,” Baldomar told BenarNews.  

Macatangay said the bus had stopped on the roadside for breakfast, when the blast occurred in its rear section. Pictures posted on social media showed police and bystanders carrying victims from the bus.

Witnesses said a man wearing a black jacket got off the bus before the explosion that destroyed a right-side window, according to authorities.

Police ordnance experts later defused a second improvised bomb found inside the bus, Macatangay said.

Regional military commander Maj. Gen. Juvymax Uy condemned the attack.

“I call on all residents of Central Mindanao to cooperate with the government in identifying those responsible for this attack in order for us to preempt and thwart similar attacks against our communities and forces,” Uy said. 

Deadly attack in January

No one has claimed responsibility, but similar bombings in the past have been blamed on IS-linked militants, according to officials. 

On Jan. 11, a 5-year-old boy was killed and six people, including his two younger siblings, were injured when a bomb exploded aboard a Mindanao Star bus traveling to Cotabato city. That attack was blamed on the Daulah Islamiyah, the Philippine branch of IS. 

“Daulah Islamiyah still persists, although their forces were reduced. They have not disappeared yet – they are even planning to mount violence during the election next month,” Rommel Banlaoi, a counter-terrorism analyst at the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, told BenarNews. 

In Mindanao, Daulah Islamiyah consists of members of several Filipino militant factions, including the Maute Group fighting out of Lanao. In May 2017, Maute Group members and other pro-IS militants launched a siege of Marawi city, precipitating a battle with government forces that lasted five months and left as many as 1,200 fighters, troops and civilians dead.

In 2019, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters group carried out a series of bomb attacks that targeted a market and a restaurant, and left more than two dozen people injured. 

More recently, in 2021, BIFF members carried out two roadside bombings that killed three and injured many others in the south.

Police and security personnel across the Philippines, meanwhile, have been placed on alert ahead of the May 9 election, because officials have warned of a threat from small private armies controlled by politicians perpetrating vendetta killings, especially in remote parts of the south.

The worst such attack occurred in 2009 when 32 journalists were among 58 people killed by armed followers of the Ampatuan clan as they accompanied relatives and supporters of a rival who was filing his candidacy papers for governor of Maguindanao.

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