Despite martial law, 3 bombings within a month jolt Mindanao

In Photo: Government forces walk beside damaged homes after a bomb exploded in a van in Lamitan, Basilan, on July 31, 2018. A bomb-laden van driven by a suspected Abu Sayyaf militant went off in a powerful blast in a brazen attack that reignited terrorism fears.

IN the aftermath of the three deadly bombings that gripped central and western Mindanao over the past weeks, the government has implemented tighter security measures in the region, notably President Duterte’s home city of Davao, as government forces continuously hunt the perpetrators behind the deadly blasts.

The tighter security, which is being observed by way of increased conduct of police and military checkpoints, patrols, monitoring and intelligence-gathering operations, was adopted not only to prevent similar attacks, but to fend off a larger plan by terrorists to carry out a possible bigger and wider bombing spree in Mindanao.

The planned acts of terrorism were mapped out and the three bombings that killed a total of 16 people and wounded more than 50 others were also carried out while Mindanao is still under martial rule.

Other provinces as targets

When terrorists detonated a bomb contained in a backpack in Isulan, Sultan Kudarat, on August 28 and killed three people, including a seven-year-old girl, no one had an inkling that it would be followed by another bombing in exactly five days near the same area, not with the security lockdown that was implemented.

As admitted by military officials, including Capt. Ervin Encinas, spokesman of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, while there have been intelligence reports that terrorist groups would carry out bombings, with government forces and even civilians as targets in other provinces in the region, Isulan or Sultan Kudarat did not register as a second or next target all over again.

In fact, they were anticipating that the attack would be carried out against security forces, supposedly in Marbel, South Cotabato, as intelligence reports had earlier indicated.

“There were reports…[on possible] IED [improvised explosive device] attacks. It’s not here in central Mindanao, but in adjacent provinces,” Encinas said after the second bombing in Isulan on September 2, which hit an Internet shop and left two people dead and 14 others injured.

The successive bombings happened despite the existence of intelligence reports about threats of attacks by terrorist groups, as also admitted earlier by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana following the suicide bombing in Lamitan City, Basilan, on August 31 that killed 11 people and wounded at least eight others.

The bombing, according to Lorenzana, was carried out by a Moroccan member of the Islamic State, supposedly for the local terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).

The twin bombings in Sultan Kudarat, on the other hand, were blamed by military officials on the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters or one of its factions that is a believer of the IS.

Basilan attack as a model

When the Lamitan bombing happened, fears ensued that it will be used as a model and would be duplicated by other terrorist groups in waging their campaign against the government. However, this was dismissed by security officials, but to the contrary as shown later by the Isulan blasts.

The bomb, according to Lorenzana and military officials, was intended to bring harm to some 4,000 children who were scheduled for graduation from the feeding program of the Department of Education, and whose event was slated at the city plaza.

In Isulan’s first bombing, the homemade bomb was detonated near a pack of people who had come for the night market as the town marks its twin festivities, including its fiesta.

The second bombing was also detonated inside an Internet café.

All the three attacks were poised for maximum casualty by targeting a large gathering of people.

Terrorism for a cause

While the government is taking measures to address the threats of attacks, not only in central Mindanao but in other parts of the region, security officials were also working to determine what fuels these attacks and the calls that propel them.

While these terror groups are the combination of IS, ASG and Maute and the BIFF or its faction, all were working for slightly different causes, but all pursuing their objectives through terrorism.

In the case of the BIFF or its faction, the group, as noted by the military, intensified its bombing activities right after the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) was passed into law.

The BIFF, a breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, is opposed to the BOL, whose prime mover was the MILF.

Even Lorenzana admitted that there are groups who wanted to spoil the law for the Moros, as they are not totally sold to the idea.

He said one issue that could spell trouble even among the Moros themselves is the power and position, and who gets them.

“As I see it, the trouble lies in the apportioning or positioning,” Lorenzana said, noting the existence of different Moro tribes.

There are also cities and areas that do not want to be included in the coverage of the BOL.

In the meantime, the defense chief said there are at least six foreign IS members who remain unaccounted for and were stirring the cause of the international terrorist group in Mindanao.

Like a sneak preview for a sequel to a horror movie, such information sends chills down the spine of civilian communities tired of all the war and strife, and looking to finally see peace—and progress—on the horizon. When this will happen, no one knows. Meantime, what was touted as the sense of security the people have from having martial law in Mindanao has been weakened by the knowledge that no amount of preparations can, after all, keep out a determined terrorist.

Image Credits: AP

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Rene P. Acosta covers defense, law enforcement and national security for the paper. He had written for a number of publications, including abroad before he joined BusinessMirror. His works had appeared in the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Asia Pacific Defense Forum, both in the US. He took up regional security with the International Visitor Leadership Program, US. He is currently the chairman of the board of the Defense Press Corps of the Philippines which he had headed in 2009.

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