Army tags extort gang in bomb attacks against power lines

Brig. Gen. Raynard Ronnie Javier, head of the 103rd Infantry Brigade said the police have already identified several members of the extortion gang, Al Khobar, who are demanding money from TransCo.

This as a city-wide brownout occurred here after linemen of the Cagayan de Oro Power and Light Company (CEPALCO) made emergency repairs yesterday.

But Emmanuel Abellanosa, Transco vice president for Mindanao operations, said the 7am to 5 pm brownout had nothing to the do with the repairs they were doing on the three towers damaged in last Friday's attack.

He said the brownout coincided with the repairs TransCo made on its 100-MVA station in Tagoloan town, Misamis Oriental, yesterday.

"All the indications are pointing to the extortion gang as behind these bombing attacks. We have identified several suspects already," Javier said, adding the Moro Islamic Liberation Front had nothing to do with the bombings.

Police sources blamed the attacks on the Al Khobar extortion gang who gained notoriety after conducting a bombing spree last year on Weena buses plying the Davao, Cotabato and Tacurong routes.

Javier said they found the bombs used on the Transco towers and Weena buses were similar—all were time-controlled and fashioned from 81mm mortar shells.

Abellanosa said they received an extortion letter from "Kumander Mubarak 4" demanding a payment of P12 million a month from Transco.

He said a total of nine towers have been damaged or destroyed since the extortion gang started their bombing spree early this month.

He said most of the towers sustained major damages on the structures, but that two of them, Tower 50 in Bubong and Tower 26 in Pagsaan, Ramain, all in Lanao del Sur, collapsed.

"We are fixing what we could repair. If the concrete foundations where the towers stand sustained major damages, we build new ones," he said, adding TransCo linemen can finish the repairs in a week.

Abellanosa placed the cost of repair per tower at P1 million or a total of P9 million.

He said Transco is hoping that police and law enforcement agencies can immediately catch the suspects.

"It will need only a single well-placed bomb to detonate and the entire Northern and Southern Mindanao will have a serious power outage," he said.

The TransCo official said that despite the contingency measures they have adopted power distribution to the cities of Davao, Kidapawan, Digos, General Santos, Marbel, Tacurong and Cotabato have remained in a "precarious state."

"Power distribution is presently unreliable. It will need only an unexpected demand on electricity and these cities will experience brownouts," he said.

He said gang members are playing "a cat and mouse" game with the soldiers assigned to protect the transmission towers in the mountains of Lanao.

He said the suspects would sneak to the towers after an Army patrol has passed by.

"You do not need a lot of people to plant those bombs," he said. (MindaNews)