Three more arrested in deadly Davao City bombings

DAVAO CITY — Authorities have arrested three more suspects in the deadly bombings in Davao City that left 38 people dead and hundreds wounded in less than a month.

Esmael Usop Mamalakas, Jimmy Bulalao and Teng Edar were arrested Tuesday in Cotabato City. Their arrest came on the same day President Arroyo announced the arrest of two other suspects.

In a news conference yesterday, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte said charges of multiple murder and multiple frustrated murder are being prepared against the five suspects.

He said the three suspects would join Jobi Bagundang Fermin, alias Tohani Urong and Ismael Akmad, alias Toto, in the charges.

He also said there were witnesses who could bolster their case against the five, who were turned over to the custody of local police and military intelligence units conducting the probe.

"Charges will be filed against them (similar to) the charges in the airport bombing. After the investigation, we have the sufficient time to do that," Duterte said.

Authorities said they were still investigating which terrorist group the five belonged to, but the police and the military had earlier blamed a "special urban terrorist action group" (Sutag) under the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) for the bombings.

Duterte, however, did not elaborate whether they will include MILF leaders in the new criminal charge sheet.

MILF chairman Hashim Salamat and 144 leaders and guerrillas have been charged for the bombing of the Davao International Airport last March 4 which left 22 people killed and 159 others wounded.

The President vowed yesterday "to uncover the larger conspiracy" behind the series of bomb attacks in Davao City.

Mrs. Arroyo said she would exert efforts to unmask the culprits in the bombings and dig deeper into the motives even if it means "chasing" the perpetrators beyond Philippine territory and asking the assistance of other countries.

The President made the promise in a speech marking the 62nd anniversary of the Fall of Bataan yesterday and the unveiling of the "Wall of Heroes" in Capas National Shrine in honor of the Filipino soldiers who died in the Death March during World War II.

This came a day after she announced the arrest of two suspects in the Davao City bombings.

"The arrest of the suspects is only the beginning. We shall uncover the larger conspiracy behind these terrorist acts and expose the face of the enemy to the people," Mrs. Arroyo said.

Without going into details, Mrs. Arroyo reiterated her suspicions on the involvement of foreign terror groups.

Citing what she called "reliable intelligence information," Mrs. Arroyo bared certain Indonesians were involved in the recent spate of bombings.

Duterte, whom Mrs. Arroyo designated as crisis manager, had disclosed that the bombings were the handiwork by local terrorists with the help of Indonesian-based Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).

The JI, a regional Islamic group linked by Western intelligence agencies to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network, was tagged responsible in the deadly bombing attack of the Indonesian resort of Bali which killed 189 people in October last year.

Mrs. Arroyo said she was not surprised by Duterte’s report linking the JI to the bombings.

"The links with al-Qaeda have been given since the beginning, Indonesians have also been cited in terrorist training camps in Mindanao," Mrs. Arroyo said.

Police intelligence officials earlier said they are hunting five Indonesians who reportedly carried out the Davao bombings with the help of MILF guerrillas.

The five Indonesians are suspected members of JI. They were identified only as Nasruddin, Sulaiman, Zulkifli, Haj Akhmad and Hamja.

Police sources said the Australian forensics team which assisted in the investigation also found out that the explosives used in both bombings were similar.

The same forensics team helped out in the post-blast investigation of the Bali bomb blast in Indonesia last year which indicated the JI was involved in the attack.

Mrs. Arroyo earlier said Duterte’s claims that the MILF was also involved in the bombings "must be based on evidence."

Since the issue has been brought out, the President challenged the MILF to prove they had nothing to do with the incidents.

The MILF denied carrying out the bombings and claimed "a third force" might be behind the spate of attacks to derail the peace negotiations with the government. Mrs. Arroyo also reaffirmed the government’s commitment in pursuing peace negotiations with the MILF.

Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Hermogenes Ebdane also bared yesterday the possibility of a third force trying to scuttle the peace negotiations.

Ebdane raised this possible scenario as investigators shifted their probe on the Davao blasts to the possible motive of the attacks.

"We would like to analyze the situation in Mindanao (like) if there are people who want to disrupt the peace negotiations. We have to establish the linkages of these people to other groups," he said.

Ebdane said he has ordered to "expand" the investigation on the possibility that certain groups wanted to scuttle the peace negotiations.

"We cannot just let it be... we need to expand the investigation," Ebdane said.

On the other hand, Muslim religious leaders called for a reinvestigation of the bombings, claiming the probes conducted by the military and the police were "biased against Muslims."

Humid Mutilan, a religious leader who is currently Vice Governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), said a majority of the Muslims do not find the investigation credible because of perceived bias against "Muslims and Islamic groups."With Marichu Villanueva, Christina Mendez, Mike Frialde, John Unson, Sammy Santos, AFP











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