Extortionists, politics behind Pikit blast?

Injured in the grenade attack just outside the GEM office were project engineer Alfredo Cabardo, 56; construction engineer Mario Tabaosares, 28; and office messenger Damrod Dalandangan, 28, all employees of GEM, which is building a road leading to the Buliok Complex, formerly a stronghold of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The GEM set up its Pikit office last February when it started working on the road project.

Insp. Elias Dandan, the town’s police chief, said that witnesses saw one of the three unidentified suspects lob two apple type grenades in front of the GEM’s office located in front of the town plaza in Barangay Poblacion.

Of the two, only one exploded, said Dandan.

He said that extortionists could be behind the explosion. “In our initial investigation, we found out that the GEM workers have been receiving extortion letters from an unknown group,” he added.

Police, however, is still clueless as to the identities of the suspects or the group which they belong.

Pikit Mayor Sumulong Sultan also said that the group just wanted to shell out some money out of the road project “and has nothing to do with the RP-US relations.”

Military and police reports said that Buliok, though now converted into a peace zone after government forces overran it in 2003, continues to be the haven of separatist Moro rebels and foreign-trained terrorists.

There were also reports that said the attack was politically motivated.

The explosion occurred on the eve of a grand political rally in Pikit by administration candidates in the provincial and municipal levels.

The grenade blast in Pikit was the third in the region since the start of the month.

On April 19, a suspected bomber identified as Sukarno Esmael died on the spot when the bomb he was carrying blasted off while on his way to Yap Sy St. in Cotabato City.

Three days later, another improvised explosive device (IED) went off in Barangay Lagundingan in Midsayap that injured a 26-year-old farmer. Two suspects in the blast were arrested hours after the attack.