The Philippine Natiobal Police (PNP) on Wednesday released the pictures and the possible identities of two “persons of interest” (POIs) in the December 3 bombing of the Mindanao State University (MSU) gymnasium where four people attending a Catholic service were killed and at least 50 others were injured.
In a media briefing, PNP spokesperson Col. Jean Fajardo identified the two “POIs” as Kadapi Mimbesa alias “Engineer” and Arsani Membisa alias “Khatab,” “Hatab” and “Lapitos”.
Fajardo said the two are members of the local terrorist Daulah Islamiya-Maute Group.
She added that Mimbesa was spotted carrying a bag where the bomb or improvised explosive device was possibly hidden.
Both have standing warrants of arrest for various crimes like murder.
Fajardo said these “POIs” were identified based on witnesses’ descriptions.
Since the two had committed previous crimes in Mindanao, they were pinpointed in the proverbial police “rogues gallery”.
“They were sighted at 6:27 a.m. heading towards the MSU gymnasium and they were seen again at MSU at around 7 a.m. via enhanced CCTV footages,” Fajardo said in Filipino.
Before the explosion, the two were seen again leaving MSU premises, with one of the POI appearing to be using his cellphone which might have triggered the explosion.
After this, the two quickly left, Fajardo said.
She added that it took them time to release the pictures of the “POIs” as they havd to verify the matter first with the military.
Earlier, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) was still looking at the possibility that ISIS carried out the bloody bombing attack in MSU as the terrorist group along with its allies claimed responsibility for the blast in posts on their social media accounts.
“Well, they posted on the social media, both the ISIS East Asia and the local terrorist group the Daulah Islamiyah (DI)-Maute claimed responsibility for the attack, we monitored this on the Dark Web, and so we are looking into the possibility that they really perpetuated this terroristic act,” AFP chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. said during an interview with CNN Philippines on Tuesday.
The AFP chief said they are also looking at the possibility that the attack against MSU was in response to the military’s successful campaign against local terrorist groups in Mindanao.
“One possibility is that this is a retaliatory attack because in the recent past we have been very successful in our campaign against local terrorist groups. For instance when I was brigade commander of the 103rd Brigade we were able to neutralize Abu Dar the last remaining original commander of the Maute-Isis and then this year we were also able to neutralize Abu Zacaria, the one who replaced Abu Dar,” he added.
Also, on the first days of this month, AFP units in the Western Mindanao Command scored heavily against these local terrorist groups.
“And in the recent days particularly December 1 we were successful in our operations against the BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters) operating in Maguindanao and then last Saturday December 2 we were able to finally neutralize (Mudrizmar) Sawadjaan alias ‘Mundi’.”
‘Mundi’ was responsible for the bombing of the Jolo Cathedral in 2019, added the AFP chief, “and then also on December 3 we were able to neutralize the DI-Maute sub-leader who is known as ‘Lando’ (Alandoni Macadaya Luscadatu). So all of these successes in our military operations might have led to the retaliatory attack that was perpetuated by local terrorists.”
Brawner also dismissed reports that the military had no intelligence on the attack, adding that they were well aware that these terrorists could do such things to get even.
“In fact we (were) expecting this (as) in the past if you look at the history of the terroristic attacks in the country, usually when we have a big success against a terrorist group, they usually do these kinds of attacks (or) bombings,” he added.
And since the capabilities of these local terrorist groups were seriously degraded after the five-month Marawi Siege in 2017, Brawner said that these individuals are only capable of attacking “soft targets” or areas not that secured.
Earlier, the AFP chief ordered all troops in Marawi City to immediately go after the suspects behind the bombing of the MSU.
“We will go after the perpetrators as soon as possible and use all resources at our disposal in order to make this happen. Coordinate closely with the Philippine National Police, work as one in order to address this issue and make sure that this will not happen again,” he said during his visit to the headquarters of the 103rd Infantry Brigade in Marawi City last December 4.