MANILA (UPDATED) - Authorities suspect the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) masterminded the twin bombing in Jolo, Sulu which left at least 15 people dead and over 70 injured, a military official said Monday afternoon.
According to Lt. Col. Ronald Mateo, Civil Military Relations Officer of the Philippine Army's 11th Infantry Division, the ASG has yet to take responsibility for the blasts, but the military believes it is "most probably" behind the incident as it is the only active terrorist group in the province.
"Walang umamin sa terrorist activity na ito. Pero, most probably, isa lang naman ang terrorist group na nandito sa Sulu, and that is the Abu Sayyaf Group," Mateo told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.
(No one has taken responsibility yet, but most probably, there is only one terrorist group here in Sulu, and that is the Abu Sayyaf Group.)
"Without any confirmation, alam namin na it's probably, it's probably the Abu Sayyaf Group," he added.
(Without any confirmation, but we know, it's probably the Abu Sayyaf Group.)
According to Mateo, it was clear that the target of the bombings are the security forces in the area.
Based on latest information from the Sulu provincial government, At least seven soldiers, a policeman, and six civilians were killed, while 75 were injured in the twin explosions.
The military said a suspected female suicide bomber also died during the second blast.
Mateo said authorities have yet to identify whether the incident is related to previous bombings in the province.
"Sa ngayon, we cannot attribute 'yung action na ito sa mga previous events. 'Yun nga 'yung sinasabi ko kanina, mataas 'yung threat dito sa Jolo, kaya tuloy tuloy yung aming security patrols na ginagawa. And here comes na nangyari itong bombing na ito, targeting 'yung mga sundalo natin at pulis. 'Yun nga lang, sa kasamaang palad, nadamay, idinamay ang mga sibilyan," Mateo said.
(Right now, we cannot attribute this action to any previous events. As I've mentioned earlier, there is a heightened threat here in Jolo so we are continuously doing security patrols here. And now, this bombing happened, targeting our soldiers and police. Unfortunately, there are some civilians who were also affected.)
According to Mateo, they have yet to identify the nationality of the suspected female suicide bomber.
"Ang pagkaka-identify lang namin ngayon ay female, babae siya. Then, hindi pa ma-ascertain kung foreigner ba o local. 'Yun pa ang iniimbestigahan," he added.
(We have identified that she is female. She's a woman, but we have yet to ascertain whether she is a foreigner or a local. We are still investigating.)
He said they are looking for witnesses who can identify her, since the soldier who intercepted her also died in the blast.
"'Yung nag-caution sa kaniya, namatay. 'Yung nag-caution na sundalo," Mateo said.
(The soldier who cautioned her died.)
Meanwhile, Lt. Gen. Corleto Vinluan, the commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines' Western Mindanao Command, opened up the the possible link with the Abu Sayyaf of the policemen-suspects who shot the four intelligence AFP operatives while conducting a surveillance operations in Jolo, Sulu last June.
Vinluan, at the Commission on Appointments hearing Monday, confirmed to have deployed the four intelligence soldiers in Jolo, Sulua after receiving information on the presence of two lady suicide bombers in the province.
The soldiers who died during that supposed “misencounter” with policemen, were Major Marvin Indammog, 39; Capt. Irwin Managuelod, 33; Sgt. Jaime Velasco, 38; and Cpl. Abdal Asula, 33.
“Possible kaya na may conspiracy dito between those who our intelligence officers were trying to arrest the terrorist bombers and the members of the police station who shot them… mayroon kasing usap-usapan sa labas na kaya binaril ito ay dahilan sa kasabwat?” Drilon asked.
“Isa yan sa mga nakikita naming motibo, your honor,” Vinluan told Drilon.
When asked for a clarification, Vinluan said it is possible that the cops involved in the incident are related to the terrorists the soldiers are after.
“Possible 'yun your honor dahil ah halos magkakamag-anak naman sa Sulu. May mga ASG na may kamag-anak na pulis, and then may MNLF naman na kamag-anak 'yung pulis dahil maliit lang naman 'yung Sulu,” Vinluan said.
Vinluan stops short of naming the person he was alluding to as the investigation is still ongoing, he added.
The military also said the killing may have been drug-related.
“Yung mga bumaril sa mga sundalo natin are members of the drug-enforcement unit of the PNP. And then coincidentally, yung barangay na mino-monitor ng intelligence operatives natin, dun nakatira yung 1 or 2 policemen,” Vinluan said.
Asked by Drilon if there is a possibility that the suspect-policemen are also connected to drugs, Vinluan said it is possible.
Vinluan, likewise, mentioned rido as another motive.
“Yung rido your honor. Dahil according to our report, yung two relatives of Corporal Arsola were killed by the PNP. They are expecting na 'yung sundalo siguro natin nagko-conduct sila ng surveillance against the placement of this unit,” Vinluan said.
The information, Vinluan added, was later on shared to Jolo local officials down to the barangay level, due to the failure of their intelligence operatives to pinpoint the location of the women suspects.
But the situation became complicated when policemen tailed them and escorted them to the police station.
As part of their standard operating procedure, however, and because they were carrying equipment, the soldiers stopped their vehicle as they were approaching the police station.
The soldiers were shot dead around 50 meters away from the police station, just seconds after the team leader, Indammog, disembarked from the vehicle to talk to the policemen.
Following the twin explosions, the municipality of Jolo has been placed under a total lockdown for the safety and security of its residents.
The first blast happened in front of a food shop on Serantes Street, Barangay Walled City in Plaza Rizal, while the second blast happened around 100 meters away, in front of a bank.
- with a report from Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News