MANILA (Updated) -- The Department of National Defense (DND) presented Friday, October 7, three suspects in the Davao City night market bombing who were arrested in Cotabato City.
TJ Tagadaya Makabalang, Wendel Apostol Facturan, and Musalli Mustapha were arrested by forces from the Army’s Intelligence Security Group, backed by policemen, as they tried to evade a mobile checkpoint while aboard two motorcycles without plate numbers.
The suspects were members of the notorious Maute group, which is related to the Abu Sayyaf, said Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
"The three terrorists have direct participation in the September 2 in Davao City bombing… The operation recovered solid pieces of evidences showing that they are indeed the terrorists who bombed Davao City market," said Lorenzana in a press briefing at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City on Friday, October 7.
READ: Blast rips through Roxas night market
He said the three suspects are part of a newly established cell of the Maute Group in Cotabato City. They were trained by Jemaah Islamiyah operative, Indonesian Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, who was killed in a police operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, in January 2015.
"They were taught by Marwan. They are his (Marwan) former students…When Marwan got killed, they took over the propagation of the technique in the manufacture of improvised explosive device," he said.
He added that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP) are "currently conducting follow-up operations to finally destroy this discovered cell of the Maute Group in Cotabato City."
Macabalang was said to be the one who detonated the improvised bomb used in bombing the night market, while Facturan was the one who placed the explosive. It was Mustapha who took a video of the incident using a cellular phone.
The phone used by Mustapha was among those recovered by security forces. A video, which captured the explosion itself and how people pleaded for help as the bomb exploded, was shown to the media on Friday.
In the video, one of the suspects was heard shouting "Allahu Akbar!" (God is great!). Also shown were people running for safety; some of them shouting "Tabang! Tabang!" (Help! Help!).
The phone also contained a short video showing Facturan with a flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and a photo showing a bomb manual.
Lorenzana said the video bolsters efforts by the group to align itself to the ISIS.
He said the motive behind the bombing, which killed at least 15 people and injured 70 others, was to disrupt the government's massive military operations against terrorists in Sulu and Maguindanao.
It was also a retaliation from heavy casualties in Butig, Lanao del Sur, and the capture of the Maute group members in a checkpoint in Lanao del Sur on August 22, added Lorenzana.
He said the terrorists planned the Davao night market bombing two weeks before the incident, adding that 10 more terrorists participated in the attack.
Aside from the phone, also recovered from the arrested suspects were bomb-making materials, a machine gun, and caliber .45 pistol.
Lorenzana said the recovery of the explosives from the three suspects means that the group is planning to explode the bomb "somewhere else."
He said the arrested suspects have standing warrants of arrest for other criminal cases.
The three are now facing criminal charges for violation or the Republic Act (RA) 10591, or the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act, and RA 9561, or the Illegal Possession of Explosives Law, added Lorenzana.
But with the suspects' arrest, Lorenzana said they now consider the Davao bombing case closed.
He said the arrest shows the firm resolve and capabilities of the AFP and PNP "to stop this band of misguided extremist."
He also said Friday that an accomplice of the group, Teng Macabalang (father of suspect TJ Macabalang), was arrested by government troops in a raid in Cotabato City Friday dawn by virtue of a search warrant. Recovered in the raid were assorted firearms, ammunition and bomb components.
In Davao, Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio welcomed the suspects' arrest, saying: "This development is commendable as we vow to expeditiously give justice to the 15 victims who died and the 69 others who were wounded in the blast."
"It is, however, important for us to remember that the arrest must ultimately lead us to the dismantling of terror groups in our midst or result in the failure of more senseless acts of violence and extremism. We also need to remember that this does not end our desire to give justice to the victims and those whose lives were forever changed by that horrendous act of terrorism on the night of September 2 in our beloved city," she added in a statement.
She urged the public to continue to be vigilant and "show the world that we do not surrender to fear nor do we allow terrorism to cripple our humanity and undermine our values."
The bombing, considered one of the deadly explosions in Davao City, happened on Roxas Avenue while people enjoyed cheap food, clothes and massage services offered at the night market. The bomb was left in one of the massage stalls.
President Rodrigo Duterte declared a state of lawlessness for the entire country following the incident. (With VR/Third Anne Peralta/Keith Calayag/Sunnex)