Preacher spared from Zamboanga mosque blast recounts ordeal

Rambo Talabong, Richard Falcatan

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Preacher spared from Zamboanga mosque blast recounts ordeal
Muslim preacher Sukri Halling says he was up around midnight to get a drink of water when he heard a loud sound

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – Thirst might have saved preacher Sukri Halling from the Zamboanga City mosque bombing that killed or injured his fellow preachers who were resting at the place of worship.

In an interview with Rappler on Wednesday, Halling said he was part of a tablig – a group of preachers – from Basilan who went from town to town to teach Islam to children and repentant adults.

Halling, a teacher at the Sinulatan National High School, recalled there was nothing that seemed out of the ordinary on Tuesday night, January 29 – the preachers had meetings and smoking breaks, and later fixed their sleeping quarters.

He and his fellow preachers were already either sleeping or preparing to sleep, after watching Aquaman inside the mosque, but he decided to go outside at around 11 pm to join a fellow preacher who was smoking.

Halling said he played some games on his phone and browsed his Facebook page as his friend continued to smoke, but then his companion said he was already sleepy and wanted to head back in.

“‘Bakit mo ako iiiwan? Sabi mo hanggang 3 am tayo (Why are you leaving me? You said we’ll stay up until 3 am),” Halling recalled telling the preacher, who told him he was too sleepy to stay awake.

Halling said he stayed behind and continued to play games and browse Facebook until around midnight. Then he was thirsty so he got water. This was at around 12:15 am, he said.

I went outside to fetch some water para mainom, and then here comes noong malapit na ako mag-inom, merong narinig na akong parang pinukpok ‘yung bintana with a clacking sound,” Halling recalled, gesturing someone hitting the window.

(I went outside to fetch some water to drink, and then here comes, when I was about to drink, I heard what sounded like the window got hit with a clacking sound.)

To wake his companions, he shouted, “Allahu akbar (God is the greatest)!”

Gising lahat ng kasama ko sa loob. Sigaw din sila ng ‘Allahu akbar.’ After that shout, sumabog. Boom! So ‘yun wala na, tumakbo na ako sa labas, mga kasama ko gumapang sa labas, marami nang dugo,” Halling said.

(My companions woke up. They also shouted, ‘Allahu akbar.’ After that shout, there was an explosion. Boom! That’s when I ran outside, my companions crawled out, bloodied.)

Authorities said the bombing happened at 12:20 am.

Halling survived the tragedy unscathed but some of his fellow preachers were not as fortunate: two were killed and 4 others were injured in the blast.

Asked who he thought was behind the attack, Halling could only name one suspect: “Isa sa mga suspect ko is the devil, si Satanas, ‘yung leader nila ‘yan talaga ang suspect ko. Mga walang puso talaga mga kampon ni Satanas lang ang may kagagawan nito.”

(One of the suspects is the devil, Satan. Their leader is really my suspect. Only those who are heartless, the forces of Satan, could have done this.)

He added: “We are harmless people. We go place to place using our resources, money. Iniwan namin ang mga pamilya namin (we left our families) for the sake of our Muslim brothers.”

The bloody attack on the Zamboanga mosque happened just 3 days after the carnage in Jolo, Sulu, where the cathedral was hit by twin blasts from improvised explosive devices as Sunday Mass was heard. –

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Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.