Basilan car bomb kills 11

Roel Pareño - The Philippine Star
Basilan car bomb kills 11
Men carry the remains of a victim after a bomb exploded in a van at a military checkpoint in Lamitan, Basilan yesterday.

ZAMBOANGA CITY – A suspected foreign suicide bomber yesterday morning set off a bomb in a van and killed 11 people, including himself, and wounded eight others at a military checkpoint in Lamitan City, Basilan.

The bombing occurred at about 5:50 a.m. near the Scout Ranger detachment in the tri-boundary of barangays Bulanting, Colonia and Maganda, which serves as the main thoroughfare to the towns of Mohammad Ajul and Akbar, said Lamitan Vice Mayor Roderick Furigay.

Lt. Col. Montano Almodovar, commander of the 3rd Scout Ranger Battalion, said the foreign-looking suspect was driving a white van that was pulled over by members of the Citizen Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) manning the checkpoint at Sitio Magkawit.

The CAFGU members pulled the van aside to interrogate the driver who could not speak Filipino or any of the local dialects. As the suspect with Middle Eastern features appeared to alight the van, the vehicle exploded.

Killed in the bombing were Corporal Samad Jumah, CAFGU Active Auxiliaries (CAA) Adzlan Abdula, Muid Manda, Titing Omar, Hermilito Gapo Jr. and Jerry Inso, who died in hospital.

The civilians who were killed include the wife of Omar, Hadja Radia Manda, and their 10-year-old son Garry; Rosa Inso and Rosida Titing.

Those wounded were CAA Wilbert Garcia as well as Corporal Romeo Tabon Jr., 1Lt. Rojean Rodriguez, Sgts. Mike Elumba and Renante Escañan, Privates First Class Romeo Frias and Jeffrey Martecio and civilian Angelina Inso.

 “The regular forces and the CAFGU (members) were supposedly responding when the explosion occurred. They sustained wounds from the shrapnel,” military authorities told The STAR.

They tagged the Abu Sayyaf behind the bombing and believed that the target was the center of Lamitan.

 They said the bomber, who was torn to pieces, could not be identified.

“At this point we can attribute this as the work of the (Abu Sayyaf),” a military official said.

Military authorities revealed that the bandit group has been attempting to sneak improvised explosives into Lamitan, considering its porous boundary.

“That’s why we have heightened our checkpoint and security operation, which prevented the van from getting (into the city),” the official added.

The wounded were airlifted to Camp Navarro General Hospital in the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) for treatment.

The explosion damaged a mini-truck, motorcycle and killed some farm animals. It tore the van apart and left a three-meter-wide, one-meter-deep crater on the road.

Lamitan Councilor Ajid Dalawis told a local radio station that he was jogging when he heard the explosion, three kilometers away.

Security measures

As this developed, the city government of Lamitan offered cash incentive for information leading to the arrest of the plotters of the suicide attack.

Local officials have also urged security forces to maintain their alert status and vigilance due to the volatile security in the region.

Among them was Rep. Celso Lobregat who issued the call following the deadly bombing.

“We cannot afford to become collateral damage of the acts of terror being perpetrated by lawless elements in the nearby provinces. All of us must be extra vigilant to include the civilian populace,” Lobregat said.

Lobregat said he will meet with the leaders of Westmincom, Joint Task Force Zamboanga and Philippine National Police (PNP) to discuss the security situation.

The lawmaker also commended the heroism of CAFGU members and Scout Rangers who sacrificed to save more innocent lives while he condoled with the families of those who were killed.

Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) PNP director Chief Supt. Graciano Mijares has ordered all police officers to strengthen checkpoints in the region.

“Police personnel manning checkpoints should be on alert of any vehicle with (only the driver inside or) foreign nationals (as passengers),” Mijares said in a report submitted to Camp Crame in Quezon City.

“In view of the Lamitan bombing incident, PNP units (are initiating) security measures, (also strengthening) checkpoints in key cities and municipalities,” said Senior Insp. Jemar delos Santos, ARMM-PNP spokesman.   

Delos Santos said the ARMM-PNP chief has deployed the maximum number of foot and mobile patrols, particularly in highly populated areas.

He noted that local police commanders were also directed to coordinate with private security providers and managers to establish and enhance joint protocols.

Delos Santos added that local police have also intensified intelligence monitoring and sharing of information with other units.

For its part, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) yesterday beefed up security in Southwestern Mindanao.

“I have already directed all operating units, particularly Southwestern Mindanao, of increased security operations in view of the Basilan bombing,” PCG commandant Admiral Elson Hermogino told The STAR.

Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco called for an emergency meeting with Task Force Zamboanga yesterday.

“Before, the regulation only covered conducting inspection of vessels departing Zamboanga, but now we would also be inspecting vessels from island provinces such as Basilan, Jolo in Sulu and other neighboring islands,” said PCG Southwestern Mindanao acting commander Captain Joseph Coyme.

Condemning the attack

Officials yesterday have condemned the bombing.

ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman, chairman of the ARMM inter-agency peace and order council, said Westmincom and the regional police are now investigating the incident.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said the incident, if it is established to be a case of suicide bombing, would be the first of its kind in the country and as such should be a cause for concern for all Filipinos.

“If it can be established that it was indeed a case of suicide bombing, considering that it was the first of its kind in the country, it is frightening to say the least as, and God forbid, it could start a trend of a series of such terroristic acts that could hit other highly populated urban centers,” Lacson said.

Lacson said the incident should prompt the government to step up its intelligence and security capabilities in order to address this new deadly threat.

“I would say, proactive offense prompted by good intelligence is still our best defense,” Lacson said.

Sen. Sonny Angara echoed the statement of Lacson, saying the intelligence efforts of the government should be strengthened in order to prevent a similar incident in the future.

He aired his suspicion that the incident may be linked to the recent approval of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL).

Sen. Risa Hontiveros also condemned the attack, which she said should be investigated thoroughly.

“The administration must secure the peace in the region. It must see to it that this incident will not derail our efforts to achieve peace and prosperity in the region, especially with the passage of the (BOL),” Hontiveros said.

Sen. Nancy Binay condemned the bombing, saying it has no place in a civilized society.

“The Filipino people must stand united to fight violence and collectively condemn this cowardly act,” Binay said. “I stand with the people of Mindanao at this critical time. I join them in condemning this kind of violent extremism.”

“We join the Filipino nation in strongly condemning this dastardly act of taking human lives for whatever motive its perpetrators may have,” PNP spokesman Senior Supt. Benigno Durana Jr. said.

Durana said the incident was unfortunate as it comes on the heels of the historic ratification and enactment of the (BOL), the government’s “grand gesture” of sincerity to establish lasting peace and sustainable progress in Muslim Mindanao. 

“We will mobilize all available resources at our disposal to bring the authors of this crime before the bar of justice,” Durana added.

“We urge the peace-loving people of Basilan not to be cowed by this single act of heinous terror but to keep calm but vigilant against any attempt to sow violence and disrupt our normal lives,” he added.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) yesterday tried to downplay the suicide bombing even as it called for public vigilance against suspicious individuals in their communities.

“The AFP has successfully performed its mandate of protecting the people and at the cost of the lives of its gallant men,” said Col. Edgard Arevalo, AFP spokesman.

Arevalo enjoined the media as well as the public to refrain from speculating that the suicide bombing was carried out by a so-called “lone wolf” as investigation is still being carried out.

Such speculations, he claimed, will only terrorize the people.

Previous intelligence reports showed that the Abu Sayyaf, headed by Furuji Indama, was plotting to bomb downtown Lamitan. – With John Unson, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Evelyn Macairan, Marvin Sy, Paolo Romero, Jaime Laude

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