At least 15 killed in twin explosions in southern Philippines; militants tagged

Two explosions rocked Jolo, Philippines on Aug 24, killing at least five people. PHOTO: ABS-CBN NEWS

MANILA - Two explosions rocked the insurgency-plagued town of Jolo in the southern Philippines on Monday (Aug 24), killing at least 15 people, including a suspected suicide bomber.

Initial reports said the first explosion happened at around noon.

The target seemed to have been a military truck parked in front of a commercial building near the Jolo town plaza.

At least six soldiers and six civilians were killed in the first explosion, according to Major-General Corleto Vinluan, chief of the Western Mindanao Command.

A second blast happened at around 1pm at a nearby street, as investigators were already securing the first target.

Citing unverified accounts, Maj-Gen Vinluan said a woman set off a bomb as a soldier approached her.

Both the suspected bomber and the soldier died. One policeman was also killed.

Some 70 other soldiers, policemen and civilian were injured, Colonel Rafael Abundabar, a spokesman of the Western Mindanao Command, told the online news site Rappler.

These attacks were reminiscent of twin suicide bombings that targeted a Catholic cathedral, also in Jolo, in January last year.

At least 23 were killed and more than 100 injured in that attack.

Military reports said an Indonesian couple blew themselves up minutes apart, one inside and the other outside, the cathedral.

"We strongly denounce the twin blasts that transpired in Jolo … today," said Communications Secretary Martin Andanar. "Grave acts against humanity, such as these, have no place in our society, especially as we continue to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic," he added.

Maj-Gen Vinluan said Monday's attacks could be the work of the same faction of the Abu Sayyaf extremist group behind the cathedral bombings.

He tagged Mundi Sawadjaan, nephew of Abu Sayyaf chieftain Hatib Sawadjaan, as the main suspect in the latest attacks.

Hatib Sawadjaan is included in the United States' list of global terrorists.

He had been tagged as acting "emir" of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in the Philippines.

His group was said to have aided the Indonesian couple behind the suicide bombings on the Jolo cathedral.

It was also behind an attack in June last year of an army counter-terrorism unit brigade in Indanan town, Jolo province, that killed eight people and injured 22.

It was also the first officially confirmed case of a suicide bombing carried out by a Filipino, identified as Norman Lasuca, in the Philippines.

Hatib Sawadjaan also oversaw the 2012 kidnapping of Arab News' Asia bureau chief Baker Atyani who was working as a correspondent for Al-Arabiya.

Mundi is believed to have taken the reins of the faction from Hatib Sawadjaan, who is already in his 60s and reported to have been seriously injured in a recent firefight with security forces.

Maj-Gen Vinluan said four Army intelligence officers were tracking two suspected suicide bombers being sheltered by Mundi when they were gunned down by policemen enforcing routine quarantine restrictions in June.

The circumstances of that incident remain murky, and the military and police had since traded accusations, as investigators tried to sort out what really happened.

Maj-Gen Vinluan earlier told lawmakers during a congressional hearing it was possible the policemen knew the two suspected bombers.

But Brigadier-General Manuel Abu, chief of the Bangsamoro police force, said one of the intelligence officers killed had ties to the illegal drug trade in Jolo.

Monday's attacks come just weeks after the arrest of another Abu Sayyaf chieftain, Anduljihan Susukan, through the intercession of Moro National Liberation Front leader Nur Misuari.

Susukan is wanted in the Philippines and Malaysia for a series of kidnappings off the coast of Sabah from 2013.

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