MANILA: An explosion rocked the municipality of Isulan, Sultan Kudarat province in the southern Philippines on Sunday night, leaving two people dead and 14 others wounded.
This is the second bomb attack to hit the town in the span of one week, with the military pointing to the Daesh-linked Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) Turaife group, led by Esmael Abdulmalik, alias “Abu Toraife,” as perpetrators of the attack.
Information released by authorities showed that the blast occurred about 7:30 p.m. local time in an internet cafe adjacent to the Novo Department Store in Kalawag 2 village, Isulan town.
Immediately after the explosion, authorities cordoned off the town and launched an operation in the area to apprehend the perpetrators, but to no avail.
Earlier, on Aug. 28, three people were killed and another 30 injured when a bomb blast occurred in the middle of festivities marking the towns’s 61st founding anniversary.
Brig. Gen. Cirilito E. Sobejana, Commander of Army 6th Infantry Division (6ID), said that the site of the second incident was only about 400 to 500 meters away from where the Aug. 28 explosion took place.
Sobejana identified the BIFF, a Daesh-inspired group, as responsible for both incidents. The military particularly pointed to the group of Abu Turaife, who heads a breakaway BIFF faction.
Capt. Arvin Encinas, 6ID spokesperson, told Arab News that prior to the latest incident there were already intelligence reports that the BIFF would carry out a series of attacks to retaliate for their losses in recent military operations.
Among the areas being targeted by the militant group, he said, were the towns of Isulan, Tacurong and Esperanza, which are the three urbanized areas near the BIFF stronghold in Maguindanao.
Sobejana, on the other hand, claimed they were already monitoring five improvised explosive devices (IED) that were transported to South Cotabato before the blast on Sunday. The bombs were allegedly intended to be launched in the city of Tacurong and the municipalities of Isulan and Esperanza.
When asked how the group still managed to stage the attack despite strict security measures being imposed in line with the implementation of martial law on Mindanao island and with intelligence information already gathered by government forces, Encinas said that “it happens even in highly developed and most advanced countries.”
“There are instances wherein (criminal elements) manage to slip through the security cordon that has been laid down. And this unfortunate incident shows we still need the cooperation of the civilian sector,” he said.
Pressed further as to whether the explosions in Sultan Kudarat and the bomb that exploded at a security check point at Lamitan in Basilan province which killed 11 people including a detachment commander from the Army Special Forces last July 31 are signs of an increasing footprint of the Daesh in southern Philippines, Encinas said “no.”
The 6ID spokesperson emphasized that the BIFF, one of the extremist groups in the country that have pledged allegiance to Daesh, continue to suffer losses.
“The (bombing) incident yesterday is in retaliation by the group of Abu Toraife for their losses in recent military offensives. Like one week ago we had surgical operations that resulted in the death of seven BIFF members,” he said.
“They’re not gaining strength. Daesh is not growing in Mindanao,” Encinas said, but admitted that militant groups in the area are using their expertise with IEDs to sow terror.
Malacañang said that President Rodrigo Duterte, who is in Israel for an official visit, had been informed of the latest bombing in Sultan Kudarat.
Duterte’s spokesperson, Harry Roque, said that Duterte has ordered tighter security in the area.
The military said that they have intensified checkpoint and monitoring operations to prevent any more attacks in the area.