15 HURT IN SULTAN KUDARAT FESTIVAL BLAST; POLICE HUNTING DOWN GRENADE THROWER

ISULAN, Sultan Kudarat –- Police and military authorities here have launched a manhunt against two men who tossed a hand grenade on revellers during the provincial foundation anniversary celebration on Saturday night.

Initial reports said at least 15 persons were hurt, mostly late night shoppers at an agri-trade fair on an 800- meter stretch of the highway in front of the Sultan Kudarat provincial capitol.

Senior Supt. Rex dela Rosa, Sultan Kudarat police provincial director, said the blast occurred in a line of “ukay-ukay” (used clothing) stalls in front of AG Advance Gasoline Station at about 8:30 p.m.

Dela Rosa said the province, which was celebrating its 42nd foundation anniversary with a “Kalimudan” (communal thanksgiving) festival, was always under threat from lawless groups.

“We have threats from bombings of improvised explosive devices on bus, public places, so we sought the public support,” he said at the opening of the week-long celebration.

People from all walks of life, including children, were milling around “ukay-ukay centers” and garden plants stalls along the Isulan-Tacurong highway when unidentified suspects tossed the grenade.

Supt. Jemuel Siason, chief of Sultan Kudarat police provincial public safety battalion, said the wounded victims were rushed to the provincial hospital just across the blast site.

No one has claimed responsibility.

Dela Rosa also appealed to anyone with information on the perpetrators to come forward so they can be brought before the bar of justice.

Isulan and Sultan Kudarat province have been subjected to grenade attacks in the past, mostly blamed by authorities on Maguindanao-based extortion gang known as al-Khobar.

The group had been preying on bus firms, asking “protection money” and subjecting to harassment firms that ignored the lawless elements’ demands. PNA