6 hurt in a series of blasts ahead of Ramadan

(UPDATED) Authorities say the blasts could have been staged by Muslim rebels who wanted to derail the peace talks between the government of the MILF

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (UPDATED) – A twin explosion hit Cotabato City Tuesday night, July 9, a day after another explosion hit a fastfood chain in the business district.

An explosion also hit an Army detachment in Datu Piang, Maguindanao, on Monday, wounding a soldier.

Authorities said the series of blasts, which came as the Muslim community was preparing for the start of the Ramadan, was believed to have been staged by Muslim rebels who wanted to derail the peace talks between the government of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Muslim residents condemn the series of incidents calling a big disrespect towards the observance of Ramadan, which was set to start Wednesday, July 10.

According to city police director Sr. Supt Rolen Balquin, the first explosion took place around 8:40 pm along Manara Street, and the second one took place at around 9:10 pm at Cafe Florencio, a popular KTV bar on Sinsuat Avenue, Rosary Heights 7.

EOD experts said fragments from the two explosions indicate that they came from a M-79 grenade launcher.

No one was hurt in the first explosion, but 5 were wounded in the second attack. They were Reynaldo Pascua, the manager of Café Florencion, Lolong delos Reyes, Winnete Guerra, Aileen Coquia, and James Fernando.

The victims were rushed to the Cotabato Regional and Medical Center.

On Monday night, a similar explosion rocked a Jollibee branch along Sinsuat Avenue.

“We are investigating the twin incidents as well the perpetrators behind. There were 4 people on board two motorbikes seen at the site before the blast,” Balquin said.

Balquin said they are looking into possible involvement of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a splinter group of the 11,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The group had warned to sow terror in the region.

On Monday night, armed men blew up a bridge in the town of Datu Piang in Maguindanao and opened fire on military detachment, leaving one soldier wounded.

Army Colonel Dickson Hermoso, 6th Division spokesman, said the attacks were perpetrated by BIFF.

He said the rebels planted two homemade bombs fashioned from 81-mortar shells and detonated both around 11:30 pm on Monday. The bridge was partially destroyed and not passable for large vehicles.

The military official also said BIFF rebels shot and wounded a soldier minutes after they bombed the bridge.

Around 12 am of Tuesday, Hermoso said BIFF members harassed their two detachments in Datu Unsay town. There were no casualties.

Abu Misry, spokesman for BIFF, claimed responsibility for the attacks against military positions, but he said they group has nothing to do with the series of bombings in Cotabato and Maguindanao.

“It could be members of a third party group,” he said.

Last month, BIFF members warned of attacks in the region.

Clashes between soldiers and BIFF rebels erupted on Saturday, leaving 5 soldiers and more than 80 rebels dead.

The BIFF is the original name of the group which was founded in 2010 by Ameril Umra Kato, formerly of the MILF. 

Kato has figured in several attacks on Christian communities, including in 2008 atrocities following the botched signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain between the government and MILF peace panels.

In August 2011, Kato’s men staged simultaneous attacks against government military detachments in the region, occupied a national highway for almost a week, and harassed civilian communities. Jeoffrey Maitem and Ferdinandh Cabrera/Rappler.com

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