AFP, PNP: Filipino suicide bomber behind Sulu attack

MANILA, Philippines – The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) said one of the two attackers behind the twin blasts in Indanan, Sulu, on June 28 was a Filipino.

In a joint statement, the AFP and PNP said investigators from the Regional Crime Laboratory Office of the Police Regional Office 11 in Davao City found a “99.99% match” between a DNA sample from the remains of the attacker identified as Norman Lasuca, and samples from his mother Velman Alam Lasuca and his brother, Alhussin Alam Lasuca.

It was the first officially confirmed case of a suicide bombing in the Philippines perpetrated by a Filipino. It marked a major escalation in terror tactics by local extremists, as suicide bombing was unheard of among Filipinos – until now.

Investigators had not yet determined the identity and nationality of the second bomber,  said to be the son of the Moroccan attacker behind another suspected case of suicide bombing, the July 31, 2018 van explosion in Lamitan, Basilan.

The police and the military said they were looking at the Sawadjaan faction of the Abu Sayyaf terror group as being behind the attacks in Indanan and Lamitan, as well as the twin bombings at the Jolo Cathedral in Sulu on January 27, 2019.

PNP Spokesperson Colonel Bernard Banac said no other group in Sulu but the Abu Sayyaf could have recruited, trained, and equipped Lasuca for the attack. However, no conclusive evidence linked him to the group.

AFP Spokesperson Brigadier General Edgard Arevalo said the military will step up operations against the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu and other terror groups in the country.

The international terror group Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the Indanan attack, according to the SITE Intelligence Group that monitors jihadist activities worldwide.

The AFP and PNP acknowledged the possible link between ISIS and the Abu Sayyaf that could mean the group is recruiting and training more suicide bombers, but Arevalo said they were treating the suicide attack in Indanan as an “isolated case."

AFP Western Mindanao Command chief Lieutenant General Cirilito Sobejana said suicide explosions are a hallmark of ISIS attacks, and his unit was profiling and monitoring suspected suicide bombers in training.

On June 28, two men stormed the gates of the Philippine Army’s 1st Brigade Combat Team (BCT) camp in Indanan. The first attacker, Norman Lasuca, bore an improvised explosive device (IED) that went off as he was accosted by soldiers, creating a distraction that enabled the second attacker to run into the camp. Other soldiers started shooting the second attacker, whose IED then exploded.

The blasts killed at least 7 people: 3 soliders, 2 civilians, and both bombers.

Lasuca was 23 years old.

Last week, on July 2, the AFP said Lasuca's mother approached investigators to claim her son’s remains. She said the boy went missing in 2014 and was never heard from again – until the attack in Indanan.

Sobejana said Lasuca grew up “battered” by his father, a mechanic, and joined the Abu Sayyaf when he was 16 or 17.

Mindanao, including the province of Sulu, has been under martial law since May 2017, when the ISIS-affiliated Maute terror group laid siege to Marawi City in Lanao Del Sur.

Arevalo said the latest terror attack in Indanan “all the more establishes the need for us to put and continue to put martial law in Mindanao.”

The current extension of martial law in the region is set to expire on December 31, 2019.

Arevalo added, however, that the confirmed suicide bombing carried out by a Filipino should not disrupt the daily lives of Filipinos.

“The AFP and PNP would like to allay fears of our countrymen notwithstanding this development,” Arevalo added.

Banac acknowledged that the government must now drop its supposition that Filipinos were by nature incapable of suicide bombing.

Ito ay resulta na ng radicalization na nangyayari ngayon sa ating kabataan, at ang PNP ngayon ang isa na sa nagsusulong ng pagpapalakas ng pamilya, ang pagbabalik natin sa pamilya, ang pakikipag-ugnayan sa religious sector at ating paaralan para maibalik natin ‘yung strong family values,” Banac said.

(This is already the result of radicalization that is happening now among our youth, and the PNP is now one of those pushing for the strengthening of the family, our return to the family, cooperating with the religious sector and our schools for a return to strong family values.) – Rappler.com

JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.

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