By Priam Nepomuceno

EMERGENCY. The Mindanao State University infirmary staff administers first aid to a victim of Sunday morning’s bombing (Dec. 3, 2023) in its main campus in Marawi, Lanao del Sur. Those with major wounds were taken to the hospital by the university ambulance. (Photo courtesy of MSU Medical Services)

MANILA – The recent victories of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) against terrorist groups in Mindanao are among the angles eyed in the Sunday morning bombing at the Mindanao State University’s Dimaporo gymnasium in Marawi City.

Four are confirmed dead as of posting time.

“So tinitingnan po namin ‘yung anggulo na ito dahil sa mga sunod-sunod na operation(s) natin against the terrorist groups in the whole of Western Mindanao, dito sa Maguindanao, sa Lanao and dito sa Basilan, maaring retaliatory attack ‘yung nangyari kaninang umaga (we are looking at this angle as we have conducted a series of operations against terrorist groups [operating] in the whole of Western Mindanao [which includes] Maguindanao, in Lanao and Basilan. What happened this Sunday morning could be a retaliatory attack), so that is one angle we are looking into,” AFP chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. said in a press conference held at the Office of Civil Defense headquarters in Quezon City.

Brawner said during the past three days, continued operations were conducted by the Western Mindanao Command that led to the neutralization of terrorists.

In Barangay Mother Tuayan, Datu Hoffer, Maguindanao Del Sur on Friday, 11 members of the terrorist group Daulah Islamiya (DI), including their leader Abdullah Sapal alias “Brook Sapal,” were killed.

The following day, government troops also killed Abu Sayyaf Group leader Sawadjaan (alias “Mundi”) who was tagged in the Jolo Cathedral bombing in 2019.

“If you recall, Sawadjaan was the mastermind of the Jolo bombings and other terrorist activities in Jolo and also in [other] area(s) of [the] Western Mindanao Command,” the AFP chief said.

Another operation was conducted Sunday in Piagapo, Lanao del Sur, which led to the death of DI-Maute sub-leader Jalandoni/Alandoni Macadaya Luscaadato (alias “Lando”) and the arrest of a certain Saadia Dato Angni, reportedly the aunt of the slain terrorist.

Department of National Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. said the government’s top priority now is to thwart further threats and bring to justice those behind the “heinous act of terror.”

Teodoro said President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. has directed the AFP to closely collaborate with local law enforcement agencies.

He also expressed sympathies to the families of the victims.

“We extend our deepest condolences to the families of the victims. Rest assured that units on the ground have already heightened their security measures in and around Marawi City to prevent any further harm to the community,” he added.

Teodoro likewise appealed to the public to remain vigilant and cooperate with authorities.

“We will not be swayed by acts of terror, and together, we will prevail over those who seek to destroy our peace,” he added.

Teodoro refused to elaborate on a possible “foreign element” in the attack.

“We are not at liberty to disclose, but there is (a) strong indication of a foreign element,” he said, adding that they are leaving the investigation to the proper authorities.

Post-blast probe

Meanwhile, Philippine National Police chief directorial staff, Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Peralta, said post-blast investigations have resulted in the collection of 60mm mortar fragments coming from the improvised explosive device used in the attack.

“So right now we are undergoing investigation on who are the possible suspects,” he said.

Peralta said all police regional offices in Mindanao are on “red alert” status.

The National Capital Region Police Office also elevated its status to “heightened alert.” (PNA)