ANOTHER BLAST rocked southern Philippines in the early morning of Jan. 30, this time at a mosque in Zamboanga City in mainland Mindanao, killing two people and wounding at least four others.
A grenade was thrown by still unidentified perpetrators inside the Kamahaldikaan Mosque in Sitio Logoy Diutay, Barangay Talon-Talon after midnight, according to a report from the military’s Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom), which is headquartered in the city.
The two fatalities were identified as Haj Sattal Bato and Rex Habil, both 46 years old.
The wounded were also brought to the Zamboanga City Medical Center, where many of the victims of Sunday’s twin bombing at a Catholic church in Jolo island are also being treated.
The Zamboanga victims are from neighboring Basilan province and members of Tabligh, a non-political global Sunni Islamic missionary movement.
The incident followed three days after the twin blasts in Jolo, amid a still ongoing plebiscite on the proposed Bangsamoro Organic Law.
Apart from these incidents, another bombing was reported on Monday at a road in Barangay Poblacion, Magpet town, North Cotabato. Authorities, however, blamed communist rebels for this incident in which a policeman was killed and seven others were wounded.
Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar immediately called for “sobriety and vigilance” among the public as she called on authorities to investigate the case.
“We call on the people to remain sober but vigilant and let us not allow terrorists to divide the good relationship between Muslims and Christians because we remain united, practice tolerance and live together in peace,” Ms. Salazar said.
The mayor also called for a meeting yesterday of the city’s Technical Working Group on Countering Violent Extremism and Terrorism.
Colonel Leonel M. Nicolas, commander of Joint Task Force Zamboanga, said the investigation is underway, but they have yet to identify a suspect.
Meanwhile, Gov. Mujiv S. Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), to which Basilan belongs, said the grenade attack victims were “on a religious retreat.”
“There is no redeeming such blasphemous murder. It is the highest form of cowardice and obscenity to attack people who are at prayer,” Mr. Hataman said.
“The goal of terrorism is to sow fear and confusion. We should not allow this to happen. We call on all people of faith — whatever their chosen faith is — to come together in prayer for peace. We must stand united against the terrorists who would divide us and, thus, destroy all that we are working to build and establish in our communities,” he added.
Mr. Hataman was in Zamboanga City earlier this week to visit the bombing survivors from Jolo in Sulu, which is also part of the ARMM.
In Patikul, Sulu, the WestMinCom reported that a member of the kidnap-for-ransom Abu Sayyaf group was killed in a gun battle as troops were pursuing the Ajang-Ajang group, which is suspected to be behind Sunday’s bombing.
The Ajang-Ajang group, which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, is composed mainly of children of Abu Sayyaf members.
WestMinCom said Ommal Usop was slain in the combined operations of military and police forces at the residence of Kamah, a member of the Ajang-Ajang group, in Barangay Latih late afternoon of Jan. 29.
As of Wednesday noon, troops were still pursuing Kamah, identified as the logistics officer of the Abu Sayyaf and the main suspect behind the bomb attacks on the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Jolo.
“Military forces are on pursuit to capture Kamah and the rest of the militants, who are now hiding from the government troops. Expect that, with the pronouncement of the Commander-in-Chief, we will intensify our focused military operations to pound down the remaining terrorists and penetrate strongholds of the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu,” said Lt. Gen. Arnel B. Dela Vega, WestMinCom commander.
For his part, Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana said he sees no connection so far between the attack on the Zamboanga mosque and the Jolo bombing last Sunday.
“Wala naman kaming makitang connection kasi dahil even in the past na binobomba ‘yung mga churches natin sa Davao, Cotabato o diyan sa ano [Zamboanga], wala namang naggagantihan retaliation after that,” said the Defense chief. (We cannot see the connection because the churches in Davao, Cotabato, or there in [Zamboanga] were being attacked in the past, [and] there were no retaliation after that.)
WestMinCom, for its part, identified four persons of interest in the Jolo bombings as Alshaber J. Arbi, Gerry Isnajil, Alsimar M. Albi, and Julius A. Albi.
Messrs. Arbi and Mr. Isnajil were the two identified from the CCTV footage released on Tuesday.
Brig. Gen. Divino Rey Pabayo, commander of Joint Task Force Sulu, said that if the surrenderees are cleared, they will continue their manhunt operations.
“Yup, considered naman natin sila na (if they are considered as) POIs [persons of interests] lang, not suspects, if they come out clean then good enough, tuloy pa din manhunt natin sa mga salarin (our manhunt on the suspects will continue),” Mr. Pabayo said in a message to reporters on Wednesday.
Also on Wednesday, Commission on Elections (Comelec) Spokesperson James Jimenez said his agency will beef up security for the Feb. 6 Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) plebiscite scheduled next in Lanao Del Norte and North Cotobato.
A total of 28 barangays from 7 municipalities will take part in the coming BOL plebiscite in North Cotobato.
“Kung kailangan natin kumilos ng mas aktibo at definitive sa areas (na) kailangan ng halalan, gagawin namin ‘yan (if we need to move actively and [be] definitive in [the] areas needed for the plebiscite, we will do it),” Mr. Jimenez said. — Tajallih S. Basman, with Vince Angelo C. Ferreras and Gillian M. Cortez