Authorities suspect Abu Sayyaf hand in explosions
MANILA (UPDATE) — Investigators have yet to find a link between the twin blasts that killed 14 people in Sulu province this week and the fatal shooting of 4 soldiers there in June, a military official said Tuesday.
The military earlier said the 4 soldiers were hunting down 2 suicide bombers of the Abu Sayyaf group when the troops were shot dead by policemen in Jolo town last June 29.
A suicide bomber allegedly carried out the second blast in Jolo’s town plaza on Monday, while authorities were cordoning off the site of the first explosion, authorities said.
“Hindi ko masabing connected iyong 2 incident na iyon,” the military’s Joint Task Force Sulu commander Brig. Gen. William Gonzales told ABS-CBN’s TeleRadyo.
(I cannot say that those 2 incidents are connected.)
“Wala naman akong information na nakuha na may kaugnayan ito doon sa nangyaring insidente… except itong pambobomba, matagal nang minamatyagan ng ating mga intelligence operatives hand in hand with the PNP,” he added.
(I did not get any information that the blasts are connected to the incident, except that intelligence operatives have long been watching out for a bombing, hand in hand with the PNP.)
The 4 soldiers who were killed by policemen in June were on the trail of 2 suicide bombers and Abu Sayyaf leader Mundi Sawadjaan, Maj. Gen. Corleto Vinluan Jr., chief of the military's Western Mindanao Command, earlier said.
"Nung May pa 'yun. Actually, 'yun 'yung sinusundan namin nung, kaya nga may namatay na 4 na sundalo nun 'diba. Ang target nila, yung suicide bombers, plus si Mundi Sawadjaan," he said Monday.
(We have been pursuing him since May. The 4 soldiers who were killed were targeting the suicide bombers, plus Mundi Sawadjaan.)
"'Yun ang target natin nun na hindi naituloy dahil nga sa nangyari. Wala na sana, oo, sayang," he said, referring to the June shooting incident.
(That was our target then, but it was not achieved due to what happened.)
The incident did not affect the police and military operations, according to Lt. Col. Ronald Mateo, civil military relations officer of the Philippine Army's 11th Infantry Division.
The security forces, part of the Metro Jolo Inter-Agency Task Group, immediately met following the shooting incident and Monday's blasts, Mateo said.
"Immediately after that incident, nag-joint meeting kaagad 'yung AFP and PNP dito sa Sulu para nang sa ganun maimprove yung relationship," he told ANC.
(Immediately after that incident, the AFP and PNP held a joint meeting to improve their relationship.)
"Merong previous intelligence operations na a month ago na sinusundan ng ating intelligence operatives, kasama na dun yung nasawi nating 4 na intelligence operatives. After that incident, tuloy-tuloy pa rin yung pagmonitor natin sa bombing dito sa Jolo."
(We had previous intelligence operations na a month ago, where the 4 soldiers killed were included. After that incident, we continuously monitored possible bombings here in Jolo.)
The first blast happened in front of a grocery store while troops were shopping, said Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan. The second blast struck in front of a bank about 100 meters away, Gonzales said.
The incident killed 7 soldiers, 6 civilians and a policeman, they both said. Gonzales said he saw the body of a child at the blast site.
The bombings also wounded 75 people, including 48 civilians, 21 soldiers and 6 policemen, said Tan and Gonzales.
The Abu Sayyaf, whose leader Anduljihad "Idang" Susukan was arrested last week, is the prime suspect in the blast, Gonzales said.
“Sila lang naman iyong terorista rito. Ito lang ang may kapabilidad o capacity na gumawa ng ganitong terroristic activity,” he said.
(They are the only terrorist there. Only they have the capability or capacity to carry out this terroristic activity.)
“Wala naman magpapakamatay na ganyan kundi siraulong iyan,” added Tan.
(No one else would commit suicide like that but those fools.)
The military is also eyeing Sawadjaan as a suspect behind the blasts as there are 2 groups of Abu Sayyaf in the province with a combined force of more than 100 members, Mateo said.
No group has claimed responsibility yet for the attack, said the governor.
Abu Sayyaf is based in the south and has engaged in bombings as well as kidnappings of Western tourists and missionaries for ransom since the early 1990s. They also have ties to Islamic State militants seeking to set up a caliphate in Southeast Asia.
Sulu is on lockdown and authorities have not found any other bomb, said Gonzales.
The church in front of Jolo’s Plaza Rizal is the Our Lady of Mount Carmel, where 20 people were killed in an explosion in January 2019.
-- With a report from Agence France-Presse