MANILA - Investigators are still looking at the possibility that a suicide bomber carried out the twin blasts that killed 21 and injured some 100 at a Jolo cathedral in Sulu province, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Wednesday.
The military earlier denied the suicide bombing angle after a survivor said that a woman planted the first explosive that went off during Sunday's mass, shattering pews and glasses, and leaving bodies strewn across the church. A second bomb exploded as troops rushed to help the wounded.
"The theory of being a suicide bombing or not is andoon pa (still there), it's hanging in the air," Lorenzana told reporters at Camp Aguinaldo.
The attack, he said, "appears to be a suicide bombing" because there were body parts scattered across the church.
One fatality, with half of the face blown off, has not been identified by residents. DNA tests will be conducted on the corpse to determine its nationality, he said.
A surveillance clip released by the military showed the brother of a slain bandit leader tinkering with a cellphone that may have been used to trigger the bombs.
President Rodrigo Duterte said Tuesday that suicide bombers were behind the attack and that the perpetrators were a couple.
The Islamic State militant group also claimed credit for the blasts, saying 2 suicide bombers detonated a belt of explosives.
On the other hand, the ISIS has not yet identified the perpetrators despite its usual practice of naming suicide bombers and dubbing them as martyrs, noted Lorenzana.
He said it was also possible that the bomber may have intended to leave the second explosive inside the church but failed to get away before it went off while parishioners rushed to escape.
The bombings came 6 days after a referendum on autonomy for the mainly Muslim region returned an overwhelming "yes" vote.
Islamic State said last year it was behind what it called a suicide bombing, when a device was detonated by the driver of a van when he was stopped at an remote checkpoint in Basilan. It killed 11 people.
The driver was believed to be a foreigner, and may have triggered the device prematurely, according to security officials, who say the intended target was likely a more populated area.
The military said it was not discounting IS' claim of responsibility for the Jolo attack, but said the Abu Sayyaf subgroup Ajang-Ajang was a suspect.