Female suicide bombers triggered Jolo blasts; martial law eyed in Sulu

Published August 25, 2020, 10:22 AM

by Manila Bulletin

By MARTIN A. SADONGDONG, NOREEN JAZUL, KEITH BACONGCO, NONOY E. LACSON, ARIEL FERNANDEZ, and RICHA NORIEGA

The twin explosions that ripped through Jolo, Sulu on Monday were carried out by two Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) suicide bombers, not one as earlier reported, according to the chiefs of the Philippine Army (PA) and the Joint Task Force (JTF) Sulu.

The bodies of victims (C) lie on the pavement as police and military personnel cordon off the site where an improvised bomb exploded next to a military vehicle in the town of Jolo on Sulu island on August 24, 2020. (Photo by Nickee BUTLANGAN / AFP / MANILA BULLETIN)

Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, PA commanding general, said will make a formal recommendation to Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to bring back martial law in Sulu.

“Siguro it’s high time na ibalik po natin, if I may respectfully recommend to the President through our Chief of Staff and Secretary of National Defense, na pwede ma-ideklara muli ang martial law sa probinsya ng Sulu dahil sa recent bombing incident n nangyari (Perhaps it’s high time to bring back martial law in Sulu, if I may respectfully recommend to the President through our Chief of Staff and Secretary of National Defense, because of the recent bombing incident)” Sobejana said.

He said this will further enhance the security situation in the province, and prevent the escape of Mundi’s group. 

“We want to bring back normalcy in Sulu as soon as possible,” he added.

The recommendation, if approved by Lorenzana and Gapay, will be submitted to Malacanang for President Duterte’s approval. 

Suicide bombers

One of the suicide bombers was an Indonesian national who was said to be the wife of 23-year-old Norman Lasuca, the first identified Filipino suicide bomber; while the other was the wife of Talha Jumsah alias Abu Talha, a slain bomb expert who served as the ASG’s liaison to the Islamic State (ISIS), according to Sobejana and Brig. Gen. William Gonzales, commander of JTF Sulu.

Lasuca was one of the two suicide bombers who attacked the detachment unit of the Army’s 1st Brigade Combat Team in Indanan, Sulu on June 28, 2019 where eight persons were killed and scores wounded.

“Dalawa ito. ‘Yung sa una, suicide bomber din. Na-validate na ito (There were two bombers. A suicide bomber was also involved in the first explosion. This information was already validated),” Sobejana said.

Gonzales bared that the JTF Sulu retrieved a closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage which showed that the first suicide bomber detonated herself near a parked motorcycle.

The second suicide bomber, Gonzales said, blew herself up after she was accosted by a soldier who responded to the blast site following the first explosion. 

As of this writing, Gonzales said investigators were still determining who between Lasuca or Talha’s wife was responsible for the attacks.

The identities of the two suicide bombers were withheld pending the results of the investigation being conducted by the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) Scene of the Crime Operatives (SOCO).

Meanwhile, a Jolo civilian was also claiming ownership of the burnt motorcycle that the military earlier said was used in the first explosion, according to Sulu Governor Abdusakur Mahail Tan. 

This bolstered the findings of Sobejana and Gonzales that the first explosion was not a vehicle-borne IED explosion.

With the development, Gonzales said the casualty count already rose to 16 including seven soldiers, six civilians, a policeman, and the two suicide bombers. Nearly 80 civilians, soldiers, and policemen were also wounded in the twin blasts. Among those killed in the incident were Army Staff Sergeant Louie T. Cuarteros, Manuelito Moma, Privates  James S. Apolinario, Omair L. Muksan, and John P Agustin, a policeman

Wounded were Sgt. Norman B. Santiago, Cpl. Philip Anthony M. Aleta, Cpl .Jesus T. Genora, Cpl. Jems Ghil S. Villacruz, PFC Noel M. Bacoy, PFC Jeffrey M. Domingo, PFC Dave S. Egipto, PFC Jayson A. Paguirigan, Pvt. Alub S. Sahid,  Pvt. Jesrael U. Sapao, Pvt. Novin I. Guzman, Pvt. Baser S. Katipon, Pvt Jay D. Carbon, and Pvt Stephen Rey Oliveros.

The names of the civilians, who died or were wounded during the incident, were not yet available.

Hunt

The Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom) is now hot on the trail of the ASG faction believed to be behind the twin explosions — the group under the command of ASG bomb expert Mundi Sawadjaan.

Mundi is the nephew of ASG’s second-in-command, Hajan Sawadjaan. Hajan is under the direct command of ASG’s top commander, Radullan Sahiron, who took command of the militant group after the death of Khadaffy Janjalani in September, 2016.

Special unit troops will also be sent in Sulu to augment the current force in the province while the military is hunting down Mundi’s group.

Red alert

Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) Commandant Admiral George Ursabia has declared a “red alert” in the entire region of Southwestern Mindanao after the two explosions that rocked Jolo, Sulu on Monday.

In a statement on Monday, the PCG said its personnel in the region are augmenting the forces of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) in investigating the incident and ensuring the safety of the residents.

“PCG K9 units, safety inspectors, and patrol boat operators are directed to be extra vigilant in securing ports, harbors, and other waterways in the region,” the PCG said.

The PCG added that several K9 units of the coast guard are also ready for deployment as soon as they are requested by the AFP.

Jolo airport closed, flights suspended

The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) has decided to temporarily close the Jolo, Sulu Airport after the twin bombings on Monday that resulted in the killing of 15 individuals and the wounding of more than 75.

CAAP spokesman Eric Apolonio said the CAAP immediately  decided to close the Jolo airport as the military and police tightened the security in the province.

All commercial flights are suspended, except essential flights carrying medical supply and personnel.

‘Wasted opportunity’

Sobejana revealed that the two suicide bombers were the subjects being chased by the four Army intelligence operatives who were killed by the nine Jolo policemen two months ago.

“Dahil sa nangyari, nakawala sila sa ating monitoring. Sayang ang pagkakataon at ito nga, nagresulta na sa hindi maganda. Mayroong mga kasamahan natin na nasawi at may mga inosenteng sibilyan nadamay pa (With the killing, the suicide bombers escaped our monitoring. What a wasted opportunity which resulted in an unfortunate incident. Our comrades and innocent civilians were killed),” he said.

Last June 29, Maj. Arvin Indamog, Capt. Irwin Managuelod, Sgt. Eric Velasco, and Cpl. Abdal Asula were tracking down the ASG suicide bombers in Jolo when they were flagged down by the local cops in a checkpoint operation. The incident eventually led to the fatal shooting of the four army intelligence operatives.

The policemen claimed that the soldiers tried to shoot the former. 

However, an investigation conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation said the soldiers were killed mercilessly by the policemen. Charges for murder and planting of evidence were filed against the PNP personnel.

ASG prime suspect 

Authorities on Tuesday said the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) remains to be the prime suspect in the twin bombings in Jolo, Sulu as it has the capability to conduct terroristic activities. 

“For now, ang suspect pa rin naman ay ang Abu Sayyaf. Wala naman [ibang grupo], eto lang yung may kapabalidad o may capacity na gumawa ng ganitong terroristc activity, [ng] pang bobomba, (For now, the Abu Sayyaf remains to be our prime suspect. There’s no other group that has the capability and capacity to conduct such terroristic activity like bombings),” Gonzales told DZMM Teleradyo.

Gonzales also said there’s still no information on whether the bomb attacks were connected to the arrest of Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) leader Anduljihad “Idang” Susukan in Davao last week.

Authorities have yet to also find a link between the bombings and the shooting incident in Jolo last June 29, Gonzales said.

He added that authorities have long been monitoring for possible bombing in the area.

“Itong pag-bobomba ay matagal nang minamatyagan ng ating mga intelligence operatives hand in hand with the PNP (Philippine National Police) operatives, so di ko masasabi na connected yung dalawang insidente, (The military’s intelligence operatives, together with PNP operatives have long been monitoring for possible bombings in the area. So I don’t think the two incidents are connected),” he said.

Gonzales assured the public that authorities are on heightened alert in Sulu and are monitoring and patrolling the area 24/7.

The twin blasts in downtown Jolo left at least 15 killed and 76 others wounded. Of the 15 killed, seven of them were government soldiers and a police officer.

Intel gap

Following the killing of the Army intelligence officers, Sobejana admitted that the military lost track of the terrorists adding that there was indeed an “intel gap.”

“Nakakapanghinayang nga ang pagkamatay nina Indamog kasi project nila ito. We have invested so much on this project.  Medyo matagal din nila itong sinubaybayan,” the Army chief lamented.

The killing of Indamog and his men on June 29 were not just a big loss to the military, but to the government’s campaign against terrorism as well.

  
Manila Bulletin sources disclosed that intelligence officers have been in the downtown area for a few days already, monitoring the movement of the terrorists under the leadership of Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Mundi Sawadjaan, nephew of Hajan.

Hajan is said to be among the sub-leaders of Radullan Sahiron, the ASG chief operating in Sulu.

P3M financial aid

ZAMBOANGA CITY –  The provincial government and the first legislative district of Sulu has allotted close to  P3 million as financial aid for those who were killed and wounded in the deadly twin blasts in Jolo, Sulu on Monday, August 25.

Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan said the provincial government and the first congressional district of Sulu has allocated P1.5 million and P1.4 million, respectively, to serve as financial aid for the victims of the twin bombings.

According to Tan, each of the 75 wounded victims will receive P20,000 from the provincial government, while the families of those who died in the incident will receive P100,000 each from first district Representative Samier Tan.

 
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