Extortion behind bus blast or business rivalry?

KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews/12 April) —  Extortion was behind the bomb blast inside a Rural Transit bus that killed three persons and injured 17 others as two alleged ‘remnants’ of the notorious Al-Khobar extortion ring were pointed to by witnesses from a gallery of photos of the most wanted criminals in Southwestern Mindanao, the provincial police chief said.

But Sr..Supt. Cornelio Salinas declined to divulge to media the suspects’ identities for fear it might put at risk their surveillance, monitoring, and manhunt operations.  He said they are now preparing charges against those responsible for the attack.

“There is no doubt that extortion was the real motive,” Salinas said. But he added they are not discounting possibilities it was part of a terror attack.

But Chief Supt. Felicisimo Khu, chief of the Directorate for Integrated Police Operations for Western Mindanao, said the business rivalry theory cropped up after the management of Rural Transit Mindanao, Inc.denied they received extortion demands.

“Curiously, only the buses of Rural Transit have been attacked when there are many other passenger (buses) plyingthe same route,” Khu, who shuttles between Zamboanga and Cotabato cities, told Bombo Radyo Koronadal.

Salinas said it was unfortunate that despite their repeated appeals to bus companies not to pick up passengers along the highway, drivers and other workers of the Rural Transit and even those from other bus companies plying the Cotabato-Davao highway, had “again and again” defied their orders.

“Witnesses saw two bomb couriers posing as passengers board the Rural Transit Bus with body number 2922 and plate number KVS-740 when the vehicle was already in transit going to the Carmen highway. The suspects disembarked from the bus just a few meters away from the transport terminal in Carmen town,” he said.

The incident last Wednesday was the second attack against the bus company, since January this year.

On February 7,  apassenger was injured when the IED went off inside the bus while moving along Kabacan-Carmen highway.

In October 2010, eight persons were killed and at least  30 others injured when a powerful IED exploded inside a Rural Transit bus along Matalam highway, also in North Cotabato.

Khu said that since 2009, there have been 10 bomb attacks against Rural Transit buses.

He said they would not have theorized business rivalry if other bus companies plying the same route has also been attacked.

Khu said they hope to crack the case with the help of a witness who saw the man who allegedly planted the improvised bomb. (Malu Cadelina-Manar with a report from Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)