Chapel could be real target of December 31 bombing PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 03 January 2014 12:50

The bombers behind the deadly attack on New Year’s Eve in Barangay Tumahubong in Sumisip, Basilan could have targeted a Catholic chapel, but balked after sensing that soldiers were positioned around the worship site.

Seven villagers were killed while five others were wounded when one of two suspects blasted a fragmentation grenade in a gazebo full of merry-makers in a yard about a hundred meters away from the barangay’s San Vicente chapel, while a night time mass was about to start.

Representatives of the local government department of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and officials of the ARMM police, led by Gov. Mujiv Hataman, toured Barangay Tumahubong on Thursday to gather information on the incident.

Hataman, presiding chairman of the inter-agency regional peace and order council, said the ARMM police is ready to provide protection to witnesses who could lead investigators to the exact identity of the bombers.

The incident prompted Hataman to return to the country from Mecca, Saudi Arabia, where he and members of his family were supposedly performing the Umrah Hajj.

“I am willing to shell out an earnest amount as a reward in exchange for any information that would lead to the arrest of the people responsible for the bombing,” Hataman said.

The five Tumahubong residents wounded in the explosion are now confined at a hospital in Zamboanga City, being assisted by representatives of the ARMM’s Humanitarian Emergency Assistance and Relief Team (HEART) led by the region’s assistant secretary for local government, Juni Ilimin and Regional Executive Secretary Laisa Alamia.

Barangay Tumahubong, located at the western side of Sumisip, is not far from the municipality’s Buli-Buli District, the homeland of the Hataman family.

Investigators said a grenade was used in the bombing, not an improvised explosive device as earlier reported.

Barangay officials are certain that the bombers could have targeted the chapel, but changed their plan when they saw that dozens of combatants of the Army’s 64th Infantry Battalion were in the surroundings.

“The gazebo the bombers targeted was filled with merry-makers. It is about a hundred meters away from the chapel,” a barangay official, who asked not to be identified, said.

Witnesses said two men riding a motorcycle together were seen suspiciously roaming in the surroundings of the chapel before a powerful explosion ripped through the village.

The gazebo the suspects bombed is owned by Manuel Cisneros, a local member of the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit.

Barangay Tumahubong is at the center of a 4,000-hectare rubber plantation developed in the 1960s by the multinational tire manufacturer BF Goodrich, which shut down in the 1980s when the farm was subjected to the government’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.

Residents of Tumahubong were awarded with parcels of lands planted with rubber, which were placed under control of a cooperative, now heavily indebted and so mismanaged.

The ARMM’s HEART has initially provided the victims of the grenade attack now confined in a hospital with rice, canned goods and cash assistance, according to Hataman.

Cash assistance have also been extended by the ARMM governor to the families of the villagers who perished in the bombing.