Extortion eyed in bomb attacks on bus firms

Senior Supt. Robert Kiunisala, South Cotabato police director, said Tuesday that at least two alleged extortion groups based in the region have surfaced in their ongoing investigation as possibly behind the two bomb explosions inside a passenger bus unit of Husky Transport in front of its terminal in Koronadal last Saturday that injured six persons.

The first explosion happened while the bus, which plies the Cotabato City-General Santos City route, was about to enter its terminal along General Santos Drive at around 10:00 a.m. Another bomb exploded at around 2:40 p.m.

The explosives, fashioned from live 61mm mortar rounds attached to mobile phones that served as triggering devices, were reportedly left by the attackers underneath one of the seats and at the baggage area, respectively.

The Koronadal City police office released Monday the cartographic sketches of an unidentified man and a woman, who reportedly boarded separately the bus in Ampatuan and Shariff Aguak towns in Maguindanao. The two were tagged as the carriers of the packages that contained the

“So far the names of Al-Khobar and Hezbollah groups have come out as possible suspects but we're still digging deeper. But it clearly shows that Husky bus is the sole target of these attacks,” Kiunisala said.

He said officials of Husky Transport, which is owned by local cooperative Biocoop, admitted having received extortion demands along with threats of bomb attacks on their bus units should they ignore them.

But Kiunisala said company officials remained firm and refused to heed the extortion demands since they first received them sometime last year.

During the last three weeks, the police official said at least four Husky bus units had been damaged by four bomb attacks in the cities of Koronadal, General Santos and Cotabato.

Three of Husky’s buses were earlier destroyed by bomb explosions at their terminal and at a roadside in Cotabato City. A fragmentation grenade was also found later near its garage and offices in General Santos City.

Aside from the extortion angle, Kiunisala said they are also investigating the possible involvement of operators or owners of passenger vans that were also plying the Cotabato-General Santos route in the attacks.

He said the bus firm reportedly earned the ire of some passenger van operators due to competition.
“There were reports that these (van) operators have connections with established criminal groups in the area that are capable of launching these attacks,” he added. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)