By CNN Philippines Staff
Two Indonesian suicide bombers were behind the twin explosions that left 22 dead in Jolo, Sulu, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said Friday.
“There are two foreigners involved in the bombing and they were aided by local Abu Sayyaf who acted as guide, and probably conducted preliminary surveillance prior to the bombing,” Año told CNN Philippines’ News Night.
He said the suicide bombers– a couple– were sometimes mistaken as Malaysians but “I’m certain they are Indonesians.”
Año identified the man as a certain Abu Huda, who has been in Sulu province “for a long time already.” He said the wife, whom he did not name, just arrived days before the January 27 bombings that rocked Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Cathedral. About 100 people were wounded.
Año said local terrorists who helped in carrying out the attack included “Alias Kamah,” a member of the Ajang Ajang that is a sub-group of Abu Sayyaf, and Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, who supposedly succeeded slain Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon. Año said these groups which have pledged allegiance to the international terrorist network ISIS are generally called Dawlah.
Foreign terrorists in PH
Año explained that the Indonesian couple aimed to set an example for other Filipino terrorists who do not usually conduct suicide attacks since these are “against our tradition and customs.”
He warned that there are remaining foreign terrorists in the country capable of suicide bombings, but assured that government forces are “doing everything” to thwart any attack.
He said among the foreign terrorists in the country is “an Arab-looking guy married to a Tausug woman.” He described the man as either a Yemeni or Egyptian, who is in the camp of Sawadjaan.
“So yan ang ating babantayan ngayon kasi isang suicide bomber din yan eh, yang foreigner na yan,” added Año, a former head of the armed forces.
[Translation: That’s what we’re monitoring now, because that foreigner is also a suicide bomber.]
He said the extremists’ “ideal targets” would be progressive cities like Zamboanga, Davao or Cagayan de Oro and they would like to launch attacks in mainland Mindanao, Visayas or Luzon. But he said the martial law in Mindanao has helped prevent the movement of the terrorists. The island region of Mindanao has been placed under martial law since May 2017 when ISIS-linked terrorists attacked Marawi City and engaged in a five-month war with government forces.
Año said the terrorists could not leave Jolo, except for Abu Kathir Al-Maghribi, a Morrocan who was able to slip to Basilan, escorted by local militants from the Abu Sayyaf.
The Moroccan was behind the car bombing in July last year in Lamitan, Basilan that left at least 11 people dead, including Al-Maghribi.
Suicide bombing angle
Like Año, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana is convinced that suicide bombers were to blame, citing overwhelming evidence.
“The church was heavily guarded 24 hours daily since August when threats to bomb it surfaced. Those entering were screened. All bags and belongings were checked. The bombs could have been strapped in the body of the bomber and escaped the attention of the soldiers doing the screening,” he said in a text message on Friday.
Lorenzana added, “The presence of body parts strewn all over. According to the forensic investigators of the PNP these body parts could belong to two persons – one inside the church and one outside.”
SSupt. Pablo Labra II, Sulu provincial police director, said witness accounts and unclaimed body parts found in the blast site point to the possibility that a woman brought a homemade bomb inside the church to carry out the attack.