SUDDENLY, we have joined the countries that have been hit by terrorist attacks. In November last year, Paris, France, was attacked by armed men identified with the Islamic State who killed a total of 130. Last March, attacks in Brussels, Belgium, killed 30. In July, a gun and suicide bomb rampage at the Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul, Turkey, killed 45. This was closely followed by an attack on a restaurant in Dhaka, Bangladesh, that killed 20 foreigners. The next day, a suicide car bomb exploded in a crowded shopping area in Baghdad, Iraq, killing 213.
Last Friday, a bomb exploded at a night market in Davao City, killing 14 and wounding 70 others. We have had gunbattles with greater casualties before, but this is the first time, an attack was made on civilians, far from any police or military operation. They were ordinary Davao folk, along with some visitors, busy shopping and generally enjoying themselves in a night market.
It was a typical terrorist operation. Terrorists do not target a specific person, such as a head of state or military leader. They target common ordinary people in common ordinary places where people least expect violence. If it can happen to innocent victims going about their common ordinary ways, it can happen to anyone in the country. The entire country thus feels threatened and when that happens, normal life comes to a stop.
Terrorists aim for the highest possible death toll. Thus they often strike at busy airports, at public markets and malls, at mass celebrations, at concerts, at nightspots, wherever people gather. So it was in Davao last Friday. It is for this reason, that until we get to the bottom of this, many people will avoid going to mass gatherings for a while.
The immediate suspicion has fallen on the Abu Sayyaf, an outlaw group in Mindanao which has beheaded many of its captives who failed to pay demanded ransom. President Duterte last month ordered all-out military operations to destroy the Abu Sayyaf, following its latest atrocity, the beheading of an 18-year-old youth whose family had failed to pay R1-million ransom.
But there are other leads. The police are also looking at the possible involvement of disgruntled vendors, following the recent awarding of stalls at the night market. And there is the drugs angle. In the last several weeks, the anti-drugs campaign of the Duterte administration has upended the entire world of the powerful drug market in the country, with hundreds already killed, thousands arrested, and tens of thousands surrendering to the authorities. This angle cannot be ignored and it will gain credence if bomb attacks will follow in other parts of the country, not just in Mindanao where the Abu Sayyaf operates.
In the face of all this, President Duterte has called for calm and assured that the military and the police are moving to avert any further attacks. He has declared a “state of lawless violence” where the armed forces are called to help the police maintain the rule of law and prevent any lawless violence.
We are confident that the President and the government have everything well in hand. But they will need the support and assistance of the people, who must be alert to happenings in their surroundings, such as a mysterious box being left in bus station seat, suspicious-looking characters, or an overheard conversation or any other information hinting of possible attack. Together, we should all be able to meet this challenge to our peace and order and our democratic way of life.