Senior Supt. Robert Kiunisala, provincial police chief, told reporters the Jemaah Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf , both in the US State Department’s list of “foreign terrorist organizations” could be behind the bombing attempt.
Citing intelligence reports, Kiunisala said the target of the bomb attack were Koronadal, Tacurong or General Santos.
Surallah is about 35 kilometers from Koronadal, the seat of government of Southwestern Mindanao.
Kiunisala said the black Toyota Corolla 1983 model car with plate number PCL 911 is on the watch list of vehicles that would be used in supposed attacks in key urban areas in the region comprising South Cotabato, Sarangani, Sultan Kudarat and North Cotabato and the cities of Koronadal, General Santos, Tacurong, Kidapawan and Cotabato.
Authorities traced the owner of the car to Emiliano Rellos of Bonifacio Street, Barangay Kabayanan in San Juan, Metro Manila. It was registered at the Land Transportation Office only in January 2007.
Kiunisala said police bomb-sniffing dogs confirmed the presence of improvised explosive device inside the car, prompting security personnel to close an estimated 400-meter stretch of the road in all four directions.
The car was abandoned near the town’s round-ball marker near the main public market and the town hall.
Military bomb experts who responded to the call recovered nine 61 millimeter mortars, an 81 millimeter mortar and a 90 recoilless rifle shell inside the car.
Also taken from the vehicle were three kilos of black power, ¾ kilo of TNT and around four kilos of an estimated 2 ½ inch nails, batteries and wirings.
“It was really a car bomb since the explosives were attached to the car,” an Army bomb expert who took part in the disassembling of the bomb materials, said. He declined to give his name.
At least four US Navy personnel arrived in the site to help in the investigation.
“If the car exploded, it could destroy (lives and property) within a 500-meter radius,” one of the US soldiers said. He also declined to give his name and where they came from.
Supt. Nasser Pendatun, South Cotabato police deputy provincial director, said the explosives could have produced the same magnitude of the explosion that rocked Bali, Indonesia on October 12, 2002, killing 202 persons, most of them foreign tourists.
But the American bomb expert claimed otherwise, saying the explosives were not on the level of what were used in Bali.
Police authorities said the car bomb allegedly came from Mamasapano town in Maguindanao province and was discovered at around 6:30 am. It was defused by military bomb experts around 10:30 a.m. Hundreds of kibitzers watched the unfolding drama and broke in cheers as authorities declared the area safe.
Authorities failed to arrest a suspect.
Kiunisala and Col. Danilo Garcia, commander of the Armys’ 604th Army Brigade, later had an argument as to where the seized bomb materials would be brought.
After calling higher officers, the explosive materials were given to the custody of the police for presentation to the media. The military would later take the explosives from the police for further investigation.
“As a rule, the ones who defuse the explosives, which in this case were the military bomb experts, should immediately take custody of them,” Garcia said.