By Martin Sadongdong
Intense pursuit operations by security forces reportedly forced the prime suspect in the Jolo bombing incident to surrender, the Philippine National Police (PNP) announced yesterday.
Kammah Pae alias “Kammah” initially surrendered to the 35th Infantry Battalion (IB) of the Philippine Army Saturday before he was turned over to the police in Jolo, Sulu, according to PNP chief, Director General Oscar Albayalde.
After Kammah surrendered, Albayalde said four of his cohorts also surrendered separately to local police units in Sulu Sunday.
They were identified as Albaji Kisae Gadjali alias Awag, his two sons Rajan Bakil alias Radjan and Kaisar Bakil alias Isal, both bomb-makers; and Salit Alih alias Papong.
Kamma denied any participation in the bomb attack. But Albayalde said his cohorts pointed to Kamma as the focal person in the Jolo strike. “I think he is not admitting anything pero ‘yong mga kasamahan nya, they are pinpointing to him as the one who escorted itong couple (I think he is not admitting anything but his cohorts are pointing to him as the one who escorted the couple),” the PNP chief added.
Asked by probers if he is a member of the Ajang-Ajang Group, Albayalde said Kammah confirmed it.
Senior Superintendent Edgar Monsalve, Intelligence Group (PNP-IG) director said Kammah is a “senior operative” and “die-hard supporter” of the Abu Sayyaf-affiliated group Ajang-Ajang, which is composed mainly of orphaned children of ASG rebels.
Monsalve said Kammah started as a member of Ajang Ajang Group when he was still a teenager and later became a liaison officer of notorious Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan. “Siya ay experienced na Ajang-Ajang na nagsimula as a teenager hanggang naging adult under Sawadjaan. Ngayon, siya na ang inuutusan. Siya ang gumagalaw sa baba, siya lang ang nakaka-akyat sa taas (He is an experienced Ajang-Ajang member who started as a teenager until he became an adult and managed by Sawadjaan. He is the only one who can both operate on the ground and contact top [Abu Sayyaf] officials personally at the same time),” Monsalve told reporters in a press briefing in Camp Crame, Quezon City.
According to Chief Supt. Amador Corpus, Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) director, the attack on the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral was planned for about a year, after Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon was killed during the Marawi City siege in October 2017.
The plan reportedly started to materialize on January 8 when Alih and a certain Arab Puti bought improvised explosive device (IED) components at a local hardware in Jolo, Sulu.
On January 24, a foreign couple whom Albayalde said were Indonesian nationals who stayed in Lampinigan Island, Isabela City, Basilan sailed to Jolo using a pump boat.
They were picked up by Kammah’s group from a gasoline station in Jolo. The couple and Kammah’s group reportedly stayed in different safehouses and even met Sawadjaan at one point before the attack, Albayalde added.
Albayalde said the Jolo incident is an apparent case of suicide bombing pulled by the Indonesian couple on January 27, killing at least 23 people and wounding over 100 others. The first IED was detonated by the woman inside the cathedral at 8:28 a.m. Her partner detonated the second IED at the parking area of the cathedral at 8:29 a.m., Albayalde said.”Ang lumalabas dito ay parang mag-asawa na Indonesian because of the witnesses accounts. Itong mga ito ay hindi marunong mag-Tausug at ‘yong salita nila based on our intelligence information ay Malay-Indonesian kaya they assumed na ito ay Indonesian (It appears that the couple was Indonesian nationals because of witness accounts. They did not speak Tausug and their language based on the intelligence information is Malay-Indonesian so they assumed these two are Indonesians),” Albayalde explained.
ASG signature bomb
According to intelligence information, the man had been staying in Mindanao for about a year while the woman arrived in the area days before the attack.
From fragments and components recovered at the scene, Albayalde said forensic technicians reconstructed two detonated IEDs made from common GI [galvanized iron] pipes that served as casings which possibly contained ammonium nitrate-fuel oil (ANFO) compound as primary explosive charge and boosted by a secondary explosive.”This particular type of IED, by design, is identified with the Abu Sayyaf Group as nine similar IEDs have been involved in at least five recent incidents in Basilan and Sulu in 2016 and 2017,” Albayalde revealed.
An IED was detonated along Scott Road, Brgy. San Raymundo, Jolo, Sulu on March 12, 2017.
Two IEDs with similar composition were also detonated by Abu rebels in Lamitan City on March 19 and 20, 2017.
Four other similar IEDs were defused by the military in Barangay Magcawa, Al-Barca, Basilan on May 20, 2016.
“The signature of the Abu Sayyaf Group, therefore, is patently present in the IED used in this latest terror attack in Jolo,” Albayalde said.
Intent to kill
Albayalde noted that the Indonesian couple appeared to be determined in carrying out the attack.”Based on our intelligence gathering, parang talagang ‘yan ang trabaho nila – suicide bombing, and they took the opportunity. ‘Yan talaga ang purpose niya kung bakit siya nandito (Based on our intelligence gathering, it appears it had been their line of work — suicide bombing, and they took the opportunity. That is their purpose why they were here in our country),” he said.
Kammah and his four cohorts are part of the 22-member terror group led by Sawadjaan who are believed to be behind the twin explosions, Albayalde said.
Aside from the five surrendered terror suspects and the two suicide bombers, at least 14 others are still being hunted by the military and police, including Sawadjaan. Meanwhile, another Ajang-Ajang member identified as Ommal Yusop, 62, was gunned down by security forces in a manhunt operation in Patikul, Sulu on Tuesday.
Kammah and his four cohorts were placed under the custody of the Special Investigation Task Group (SITG) Mount Carmel in Jolo, Sulu.
A case for multiple murder and multiple frustrated murder would be filed against the five suspects before the Sulu Provincial Prosecutor’s Office on Monday, Albayalde said.
The investigation of the Jolo Cathedral explosion is far from over as there are more pieces of evidence that need to be carefully examined to test its consistency with other facts and circumstances surrounding the incident,” Albayalde added.
Meanwhile, Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año cited lapses in security that resulted in the tragic church attack.
Año said there was no CCTV that covered the perimeter of the cathedral and not even CCTV of private businesses near the cathedral captured videos of the incident.
Aside from the missing CCTV, there was also no security personnel manning the cathedral’s gate and no checkpoints were set up around the church area.
“Ang mga CCTV footage na nakuha natin ‘yung dalawang CCTV na naka-install sa paligid ng cathedral na pag-aari ng private businessmen. Medyo malayo [sa cathedral]. Hindi naman nahagip ung mga sinasabi nating suicide bomber kasi ang focus nong mga CCTV na ‘yun eh to protect the interest of the business company, hindi talaga siya directly nakatutok don sa pinto kung saan pumapasok ang churchgoers (The CCTV footage we got from private firms nearby were far and were unable to capture the supposed suicide bomber since the focus of the CCTV is to protect the interest of the said private companies),’’ Año said.