The second of two explosions in downtown Jolo, Sulu, on Monday, August 24, was caused by a female suicide bomber, the military said. This attacker, intelligence sources told Rappler, was one of the two subjects of an Army intelligence mission in late June, which ended with the fatal shooting of 4 soldiers by police.
A first bomb – an improvised explosive device on a motorcycle – went off at around 11:55 am Monday near the Paradise Food Plaza grocery store along Serantes Street at Plaza Rizal in Barangay Walled City in downtown Jolo. This killed 6 soldiers and several civilians.
Military and police were securing the area at around 1:15 pm when a woman walked up to a group of soldiers of the Philippine Army’s 35th Infantry Battalion posted near Leng’s Snack House, also around Plaza Rizal. The woman “suddenly stood beside the troops and suddenly blew herself up and [was] shredded to pieces,” a military report said.
Lieutenant Colonel Ronaldo Mateo, Army 11th Infantry Division civil-military relations officer, confirmed this report to Rappler.
The suspected suicide bomber is believed to be linked to Abu Sayyaf bomber Mundi Sawadjaan, the nephew of Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Hajan Sawadjaan – the leader of the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist network in the Philippines.
Two independent military intelligence sources told Rappler the attacker was one of two women who had been the subject of the Army’s signals intelligence mission on June 29. At the time, the women were believed to have been planning a suicide bomb attack somewhere in Jolo within days.
Rappler asked Western Mindanao military commander Lieutenant General Corleto Vinluan Jr to confirm the information from the two sources, but he deferred to the investigation by the Philippine National Police Scene of the Crime Operatives.
Vinluan said the subjects of the June 29 intel mission were two Tausug women who had volunteered to carry out suicide attacks. One of them was the wife of Norman Lasuca, who launched a suicide attack on a military camp in Indanan, Sulu, on June 28, 2019 – the first by a Filipino.
No other women are known to have agreed to carry out suicide attacks besides these two, Vinluan added.
If the attacker behind the second blast in Jolo on Monday was indeed one of the two Tausug suspects, it would be the second known suicide bombing by a Filipino, and the first by a Filipino woman.
Killings in June
On the afternoon of June 29, four Army intelligence soldiers – Major Marvin Indammog, Captain Irwin Managuelod, Sergeant Jaime Velasco, and Corporal Abdal Asula – were tracking the two suspects and driving back to downtown Jolo from the outskirts when a group of police flagged them at a checkpoint, according to the military. In plainclothes, the soldiers agreed to go with the cops to their municipal station.
When the soldiers parked their SUV some 50 meters past the police station, the cops followed and confronted them.
According to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), Indammog got off the vehicle and approached the cops unarmed, but he was shot dead on the spot. Police also shot the other 3 soldiers dead, but there was no indication of a firefight, the NBI said. (READ: AFP accuses PNP of cover-up in Jolo shooting)
With the 4 soldiers’ killing, the two terrorists got away that day, the military said, adding the incident was a setback to their campaign to hunt down Abu Sayyaf terrorists.
The military initially said the subject of the mission included Mundi Sawadjaan, but Vinluan told a Senate panel on August 19 that the specific targets were “two female suicide bombers.”
At the time, intelligence operatives could not yet identify where the two suspects were planning to attack, so Vinluan said he decided to inform local authorities, including the police, that the military was conducting a mission to track down the would-be bombers.
In the same Senate hearing, however, the police said one of the slain soldiers had links to illegal drugs.
Women were behind two of several suicide bombing incidents in Western Mindanao last year. One was an Indonesian, Ulfah Handayani Saleh, who, with her husband Rullie Rian Zeke, self-detonated during Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in downtown Jolo on January 27, 2019. That incident killed at least 23 people and wounded 109 others.
On September 8, 2019, a caucasian-looking woman tried to attack an Army detachment in Indanan, Sulu, but the explosives on her went off as she was approaching the entrance, killing only herself. No one else was reported injured from that incident.
The military attributed these attacks in Jolo and Indanan to the Abu Sayyaf, particularly the ISIS-linked faction under Hajan Sawadjaan.
Monday’s twin blasts occurred in the same town square as the Jolo Cathedral, where the January 2019 bombing happened.
As of 9 pm Monday, the military said at least 14 people were killed in Monday’s explosions, excluding the attacker: 7 soldiers, 6 civilians, and one police. At least 75 other people were wounded: 48 civilians, 21 soldiers, 3 local police, and 3 police from the elite Special Action Force. – Rappler.com