Army officials have blamed a large Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, for recent bombings and grenade attacks in the country’s restive south but police investigators have yet to come up with evidence that could identify the perpetrators.
A man lobbed a grenade into a crowd of New Year’s Eve revelers at a plaza in the port city of General Santos late Wednesday, wounding at least 22 people, including some policemen guarding the celebration, officials said.
A grenade attack also wounded a policeman and two residents in a General Santos police station late Tuesday, police said. The attackers were not caught.
In Zamboanga city on Thursday, police safely defused a bomb - made from an 81 mm mortar round wired to an alarm clock - which was found near a bus terminal, police said.
A similar bomb, hidden in a sack of charcoal, exploded in a motorcycle taxi at a checkpoint in Sultan Kudarat province’s Esperanza town late Tuesday, killing the driver and seriously wounding a policeman inspecting the vehicle, provincial police chief Superintendent Benhur Monggao said.
Another bomb was found in a passenger bus in a transport terminal in Sultan Kudarat’s Isulan township on Wednesday. The bomb was safely defused.
The attacks have heightened a security alert that has been raised in the south due to intelligence reports, cited by army officials, of a plan by Muslim guerrillas to attack public areas to divert the military’s focus from a monthslong offensive and retaliate for battle losses.
“They have a plan to attack soft targets but they will always deny it,” said army Col. Marlou Salazar, who has been helping oversee offensives against the rebels.
Rebel spokesman Eid Kabalu denied Salazar’s claims.
Malaysian-brokered talks between the government and the 11,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front collapsed in August when the Supreme Court stopped the signing of a preliminary accord on an expanded Muslim autonomous region, provoking a bloody rampage by three rebel commanders that killed dozens in predominantly Christian communities.
The rebel attacks prompted the military to launch a major offensive.