COTABATO CITY, Philippines — The government foiled an attempt by Islamic militants to detonate bombs while President Rodrigo Duterte was in the city on Saturday, sources said.
The bombs, which members of the Dawla Islamiya Fi Cotabato were to separately detonate near the compound of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) were made up of an 81-mm mortar round and a 105 howitzer cannon shell rigged with blasting mechanisms attached to mobile phones.
Duterte met with ARMM officials led by Regional Governor Mujiv Hataman at the ARMM compound in Cotabato City on Saturday afternoon.
The two improvised explosive devices were found before dawn Saturday at the hideouts of Mohammad Chenikandiyil, Jackson Usi, Zacaria Lopez and Ansan Mamasapano in residential areas in Broce District in Datu Odin Sinsuat town and in Cotabato City.
The suspects readily confessed to their membership in the Dawla Islamiya militant bloc, which operates in the fashion of the Independent State of Iraq and Syria. They were immediately brought to Davao City for interrogation.
Key sources from the Police Regional Office-12 and the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, which covers Cotabato City and nearby Central Mindanao provinces, on Sunday told The STAR the prompt recovery of the IEDs and the arrest of the four suspects were carried out with the extensive help of Hataman and Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi.
Guiani-Sayadi was one of the local officials who was with Duterte during his engagement on Saturday afternoon with ARMM officials and Governors Jim Hataman of Basilan, Rashidin Matba of Tawi-Tawi and Esmael Mangudadatu of Maguindanao.
Representatives Ruby Sahali of Tawi-Tawi, Monir Arbison of Sulu and Deputy Speaker for Mindanao Sandra Sema, who represents the first district of Maguindanao, were also present.
Maj. Gen. Carlito Galvez, Jr., commander of 6th ID, on Sunday said he is thankful to Guiani-Sayadi and Hataman for helping thwart the bombing plots.
Other Army sources said Guiani-Sayadi, a lawyer known for her iron-fisted stance in dealing with criminals, even counseled them on how to carry out the arrest of the four militants to ensure a strong case.
The four alleged bombers were accomplices of TJ Macabalang, Wendel Facturan and Musali Mustapha, who were all arrested here in early October. The three are suspects in the September 2 bombing in Davao City that left 15 dead and injured more than 60 others.
The 6th ID employed members of its elite Light Reaction Unit and the 5th Special Forces Battalion in the raids that led to the arrest of the four men and the recovery of the IEDs.
“We are thankful to all local officials and the ARMM regional executives who helped us prevent the planned bombings,” Galvez said.
Galvez said people identified with Sema, now in her third term as congressional representative and whose husband Muslimin is chairman of the largest of three factions in the Moro National Liberation Front, also helped the police and the military locate the four men.
Police and Army intelligence sources said the foiled bombings were meant to create an impression that the earlier arrest here of Macabalang and his cohorts did not weaken the collaboration between the Dawla Islamiya Fi Cotabato and the Dawla extremists in Lanao del Sur operating under the control of the Maute terror group led by relatives Omar and Abdullah Maute.
“Their plan was to set off the IEDs, not inside the ARMM compound because it was so secured then, but outside. Perhaps in other public places just to catch the attention of President Duterte. They failed because of the good security cooperation between the police, the military and the office of the mayor in Cotabato City,” said one of the sources.