Army says it thwarted suicide bombing in Sulu

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    THREE suicide bombers, including an Egyptian and his son, were killed in a firefight with government troops in Indanan town in Sulu on Tuesday afternoon.

    Soldiers recovered two vests rigged with pipe bombs, which the three were to use in staging an attack in Jolo town, said AFP Western Mindanao Command chief Lt Gen Cirilito Sobejana.

    He named the Egyptians as Abduramil alias Yusof and his son, Abdurahman. He could not immediately say the family name. He said the father was between 40 and 50 years old and son, about 18 years.

    He identified the third fatality only as alias “Dems.”

    Lt. Col. Gerard Monfort, spokesman of the military’s Joint Task Force Sulu, said the two foreigners are the husband and son of the foreign female suicide bomber who blew herself up at the gate of the Army’s 35th Infantry Battalion in Indanan on September 8.

    Monfort also said the third fatality was a member of the Abu Sayyaf group.

    Sobejana said the foreigners are indeed father and son “but as to their relation to the female suicide bomber, we have to validate.”

    Sobejana said the three were associated with the group of Abu Sayyaf leader Hatib Sawadjaan who the military tagged as mastermind in three suicide bombings in Sulu this year.

    Sobejana said the slain foreign terrorists had been in the country for at least three years.

    “We can probably connect this (planned suicide bombing in Jolo) to the death of Abukabr al-Baghdadi,” said Sobejana, referring to the ISIS leader who was killed in a US operation in Syria last week.

    Sobejana said the three were intending to avenge the death of Al-Bahgdadi on October 27 in Syria.

    “I should say that not all members of the terror group have the motivation because Al-Baghdadi is not the popular among the rank and file. But the foreign terrorists within Abu Sayyaf in Sulu are the ones trying hard to retaliate for the death of their leader,” said Sobejana.

    Sobejana said the three terrorists were aboard a motorcycle in Barangay Kan Islam at around 4:50 p.m. when they were sighted by troops “and within range, (the suspects) fired on the troops.”

    “An exchange of fire erupted and ended in a running gun battle that lasted for five minutes,” said Sobejana.

    Sobejana said the troops, who set up a checkpoint in the area, were on a “case build-up on a reported suicide bombing attack in Jolo.”

    Also recovered from the suspects were a cal 45 pistol and a hand grenade. Their remains were taken to a military camp in Jolo.

    Monfort said the bomb-rigged vests recovered from the suspects were similar to those used in the September 8 attack, and in the June 28 suicide bombing at a military installation in Indanan town, which left two bombers, three soldiers, and two civilians dead.

    “The terrorists, composed of two foreign terrorists and one local ASG member, were about to carry out their suicide bombing mission in metro Jolo when they were neutralized by AFP during the implementation of a military operation intended to apprehend foreign terrorists in Sulu,” said Monfort.

    He also said the terrorists fired at the apprehending military personnel when they were flagged-down along the national road in Indanan, Sulu.

    Col. Ignatius Patrimonio, commander of the Army’s 1102nd Infantry Brigade, said the attack plan “could have caused tremendous casualties and could have tarnished the image of this country if not immediately acted upon by our soldiers.”

    The planned attack would have been be the fifth attempted suicide bombing in Mindanao in the past 16 months. Such attacks were previously unheard of despite decades of separatist unrest and lawlessness that has given rise to Islamist sentiments.

    It marked a sinister turn in the Philippines’ fight to contain militant groups inspired by Islamic State who have been joined by fighters from Malaysia and Indonesia, including in a brazen attack and five-month occupation of Marawi City in 2017.

    The suicide attacks were all in the Sulu archipelago, Abu Sayyaf’s stronghold, and were all claimed by Islamic State.

    They included a twin bombing of a church in January that killed 21 people, a van bomb at a checkpoint in July 2018 that killed 11, a suicide attack by two youths that killed eight in June, and a woman who prematurely detonated a bomb she was carrying near an army detachment in September.

    The attackers included Indonesians, a Moroccan and Filipinos.

    President Duterte has vowed to wipe out Abu Sayyaf and has intensified military operations in its strongholds, although bombings targeting civilians and the military have continued unabated. – With Reuters