Año: Sources say Jolo 'suicide bombers' were Indonesians

MANILA, Philippines – Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said initial information from sources identified two Indonesians behind the deadly Jolo Cathedral bombing.

Año, on Friday, February 1, emphasized that this piece of information must still be verified.

"Ang talagang nagpasabog doon ay Indonesian suicide bombers (The ones behind the bombings are Indonesian suicide bombers)," he said in the Barangay Summit on Peace and Order in Palo, Leyte.

"Hindi pa tapos 'yung ginagawang investigation, but I have sources na itong pagsabog ay project ng Abu Sayyaf at itong foreign terrorist na related sa ISIS (Islamic State group)," he later on said in an interview with reporters.

(The investigation is not over, but I have sources who said the bombing was a project of Abu Sayyaf and this foreign terrorist related to ISIS.)

Año said information from his sources matched details made public by President Rodrigo Duterte – that the suicide bombers were a husband-and-wife team.

Members of the Abu Sayyaf, including one of the suspects, a certain "alias Kamah," served as guides for the foreigners since they did not know the local dialect.

The Abu Sayyaf had also helped in studying targets for the attack, surveillance, and bringing the couple to the Jolo Cathedral.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had previously said he received information that the couple were Yemeni but that DNA tests were needed to confirm this.

According to Año, there are body parts found in the cathedral that were not claimed by any Jolo resident, making authorities believe they belong to the bombers. The forensic tests have not yet been completed, he said.

Related to Basilan blast, Marawi siege

Año, a former military intelligence chief, said he sees no connection between the Jolo Cathedral bombing and the Zamboanga City mosque bombing.

What may be related, he said, is the Jolo blast and the deadly bombing in Lamitan City, Basilan, on July 31, 2018.

Lorenzana had said at the time that the blast also appeared to be a suicide attack. Año said what links the two attacks is the alleged involvement of a foreign ISIS member in the Basilan blast.

"The Lamitan, Basilan bombing and the Jolo Cathedral bombing, they are connected," said the interior chief.

"Itong nagpaputok sa Basilan, si Abu Kathir Al-Maghribi, galing 'yan sa Jolo, sa Sulu. Bumaba lang 'yan, pumunta lang 'yan sa Basilan." (The one behind the explosion in Basilan, Abu Kathir Al-Maghribi, came from Jolo, in Sulu. He just went to Basilan before the bombing.)

The military had announced after the Basilan blast that Abu Sayyaf Basilan commander Furuji Indama had a hand in it.

Año also thinks the Jolo explosion is related to the 5-month siege of Marawi City by groups allied with ISIS. 

"When they attacked Marawi, nagtatak sila ng IS Mindanao (they branded it IS Mindanao). Sa tingin ko, dugtong pa rin ito sa Marawi crisis (In my view, this is an extension of the Marawi crisis)," he said.

As to the timing of the Jolo blast, he said it may have been related to the first Bangsamoro plebiscite, only in so much as the end of the polls may have led soldiers to let their guard down.

"They have been trying to do that as early as last year," he said.

"Nagkaroon lang sila ng pagkakataon ngayon, siguro nakita nila na medyo nagrelax ng kaunti 'yung nagbabantay doon sa katedral kasi natapos na 'yung BOL." (They got their chance maybe because they saw that the guards in the cathedral relaxed a bit since the BOL plebiscite had just ended.)

But Año emphasized that soldiers had been guarding the Jolo Cathedral 24 hours a day. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.