Extortion gang eyed in bombing

MIDSAYAP, North Cotabato: Authorities are tracking a local terrorist group allegedly responsible for the bombing of a Mindanao Star Bus in Aleosan town, North Cotabato last Tuesday that left one child dead and six others wounded.

Lt. Colonel Bernard Tayong, North Cotabato police spokesman and deputy police provincial director, said the “Al-Khobar” extortion gang is considered the main suspect behind the January 11 bus bombing in Barangay San Mateo of the town.

Tayong said the evidence points that the bombing was the work of the extortion group preying on bus companies in North Cotabato and nearby provinces.

He said the style of attack and the explosive materials used showed “some signatures” of Al-Khobar, a local extortion group that also prey on multinational firms operating in Maguindanao and North Cotabato.

Al-Khobar was said to be behind the series of bus bombings in Central and Southern Mindanao for the past several years.

Tayong, however, denied that the bus bombing was in retaliation for the recent police raid in Gokutan village of the nearby municipality of Pikit in the same province that resulted in the death of six suspected members of a carnapping syndicate. The December 29 raid led to the recovery of 440 stolen motorbikes.

“No links between the two incidents,” Tayong said. “In all likelihood, the bus bombing was due to extortion.”

The police have been coordinating with the bus company management.

Police investigators are also closely studying the closed-circuit television footage that shows a man boarding the bus at the terminal in Kabacan but alighted in Pikit town, some 15 kilometers from the blast site.