Extortion eyed in Sultan Kudarat bombing

ISULAN, Sultan Kudarat — Extortion is being eyed as motive behind Saturday’s bombing in front of the public market here that left seven persons injured, including a traffic enforcer and an off-duty militiaman.

Lt. Col. Joven Bagaybay, newly-designated Isulan police director, said the 7 a.m. blast came as the town police and the military were placed on heightened alert following persistent intelligence reports of an impending bomb attack.

This, he said as the number of persons injured in the incident rose to eight from an initial report of four blast victims.

Bagaybay identified the eight victims as traffic enforcer Terencio Cagadas, 35; off-duty Civilian Armed Force Geographical Unit member Jomar Aquino, 31; Niño Biñas Virgo, 28; Jarren Amigo, 24; Jay Carnaso 30; Nasim Salip Gulano, 29; all of Isulan, Sultan Kudarat; Gerald Cartagena, 28, of Surallah, South Cotabato; and Richard Arancillo, 45, of New Lagao, Tacurong City.

“Possible motive is extortion but we are not discounting possible involvement of extremists, we are still investigating,” Bagaybay said.

Prior to the incident, he said Mayor Marites Pallasigue received an extortion demand through her mobile phone purportedly from an extortion group.

Bagaybay said the group threatened the local government that bombings will happen if their demand of PHP250,000 a month protection money is ignored.

He said the extortionists also called the mayor on Sept. 2 and asked for money, telling the mayor that a bomb will explode if their demand was ignored.

“They are demanding PHP250, 000 a month from the Isulan town government,” Bagaybay said.

Bagaybay also said the police is now in possession of closed-circuit television (CCTV) footages of the city government security cameras in front of the town market.

The footages include what appeared to be the planting of anti-personnel mine on Friday night and the actual explosion at about 7 a.m. Saturday. One of the CCTV footages showed a woman on a motorbike arriving at the blast site on Friday night, left what appeared to be a bag beside the motorbike and walked away on foot.

Bagaybay said the perceived bomber was a man disguised as a woman with a wig, shoulder bag, and white loose shorts.

Police are reviewing the CCTV to have clearer view to determining the bomber’s identity.

An Army intelligence officer, who asked not to be identified, said the explosive device that went off Saturday was similar to other improvised bombs that were previously set off in Isulan.

Last year, two successive bombings hit the town that left five dead and 45 others hurt.

In April this year, 18 persons were hurt when a man set off an anti-personnel mine in front of a restaurant located in the same stretch of the national highway.

Police and military authorities blamed the Islamic State-linked Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) for the latest bombing incident.

Isulan is the provincial capital of Sultan Kudarat.  Edwin Fernandez with reports from Noel Punzalan/PNA)