One of two suspected Filipino militants wanted for a recent bomb attack that left two dead and dozens wounded in the southern Philippine city of Cotabato has surrendered, authorities said Tuesday.
Salipudin Pasandalan, 52, gave himself up to authorities Monday, accompanied by relatives who convinced him to peacefully surrender after seeing his face on pictures circulated by police, regional police commander Chief Supt. Eliseo Rasco said.
Rasco said Pasandalan worked as lookout for another suspect, who left the improvised explosive device in front of the South Seas Mall on Dec. 31. It was packed with New Year’s Eve shoppers at the time. The explosion left two dead, and more than 30 others wounded.
“The suspect denied his involvement. His family members accompanied him after they saw his pictures in news reports,” Rasco said, confirming that Pasandalan was under arrest.
Lawyer Datubud Lauban, a relative of the suspect, told a local radio station that Pasandalan was suffering from a mental disorder and was not capable of carrying out or planning an elaborate attack.
“We turned him over to authorities to clean his name and to prove that he is innocent,” he said.
The explosion occurred amid heightened security in the south and weeks before the troubled region was due to go the polls to vote on whether to ratify the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) signed by President Rodrigo Duterte last year to expand autonomy in the south.
Some two million people in the provinces of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur are expected to participate in the plebiscite on January 21. It aims to give the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) full control of the autonomous region, where they will be allowed to form an elected parliament and administration in Islamic-majority areas.
The Philippine military tagged the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) as being behind the explosion. The attack was likely carried out by followers of Abu Turaife, a BIFF leader whose faction has pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic State, security sources said.
The BIFF is a splinter group of the MILF, which signed a peace deal four years ago and dropped its bid for separate state. The peace agreement led to the signing of the BOL, which BIFF rejects.
Security analysts have warned that if the south fails to ratify the law, IS-linked groups could take advantage of the situation to boost their recruitment efforts.