'Wrong place at wrong time': What 4 'persons of interest' in Jolo blast say

Chiara Zambrano, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 30 2019 11:02 PM | Updated as of Jan 30 2019 11:32 PM

Four men who appeared in CCTV footage of the Jolo cathedral bombing have come forward to clear their names before the police.

According to them, they were mere bystanders who were at the wrong place at the wrong time.

The videos have been in the news for days. One is footage showing a street in downtown Jolo a few minutes before and after the deadly cathedral bombing. 

Watch more in iWantTFC

Authorities pointed out four men in the videos, whose behavior they said was suspicious.

They also claimed that the young men were members of the "Ajang-ajang" group, a Jolo-based bandit group known to do work for the Abu Sayyaf.

The four men were declared persons of interest for possibly being connected to the bombing.

But on Wednesday morning, two men came to the Sulu Provincial Office and introduced themselves as two of the four men in the CCTV video.

"Pumunta sila rito para mag-withdraw ng pera but according to them, hindi po available ang ATM. Kumakain sila ng satay doon sa kainan diyan na malapit sa may cathedral 200 meters away, 'yun na pumutok," Senior Superintendent Pablo Labra said.

Police added, the one wearing a green jacket on the video introduced himself as a student, while the one seen with a red bag on the video claims he is just a teacher.

"Dala niya 'yung jacket niya. The teacher wearing a blue cap and having a red backpack, nandiyan, dala din nila yung mga gamit na 'yun to prove themselves to us," Labra said.

After hours of processing, the Sulu Provincial Police Chief was convinced the two are innocent and that they are not members of Ajang-ajang as they originally suspected.

The two were then removed from the list of persons of interest.

By Wednesday afternoon, the two other men in the video came forward voluntarily. They were later cleared by the police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG).

Labra said this discovery did not derail their investigation, and their search for the main suspects is right on track.

"Totoo naman din that we're suspecting yung actions nila doon. This was the cellphone of the teacher. So lumabas sila na-timingan pinasa na niya ulit dun sa teacher. This was the time na na-capture natin," he said.

Just like the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police said they are not discounting the possibility that the attack was a suicide bombing, especially the second bomb that exploded by the cathedral exit, since it would be difficult to leave a package on the ground without people tripping over it.

Defense Chief Delfin Lorenzana appears to back President Rodrigo Duterte's position the church bombing in Jolo was carried out by suicide bombers.

He said the second explosion may have indeed been a suicide bombing, and that a foreign couple could have been involved.

Lorenzana, however, clarified nothing is certain yet.

"Marami kasing body parts na nakita kami, may paa, part ng ulo, may nakasabit sa pader, sa fence. It appears to be a suicide bombing and I was also convinced immediately na baka suicide bombing 'yun," he said.

While the police are busy investigating the case, the military busies itself by hunting down the Ajang-ajang and the Abu Sayyaf, who they believe are behind the bombing.

The commander of Joint Task Force Sulu flew over the mountains of Patikul, where his men are chasing down top Abu Sayyaf leaders like Radulan Sahiron and Sawadjaan, the leader they believe is connected to the bombing.

Airstrikes via attack helicopters continue to help ground troops maneuver better.

"Since the marching order of our president, the total war versus the Abu Sayyaf so nandiyan po yung mga tropa po natin. Ongoing po ang ating combat operations," Brigadier General Divino Rey Pabayo of Joint Task Force Sulu said.

On Tuesday night, government forces raided the house of alias Kamah, believed to be an Ajang-ajang logistician, who played a big role in the bombing.

One of his men, Ommal Yusop, died in the ensuing gunfight.