MANILA • A bomb attack that killed eight people at a military base in the southern Philippines was likely a suicide bombing, the army said yesterday, in another blow to the government's efforts to rein in militants inspired by ISIS.
The prime suspect in Friday's attack on Jolo island is Abu Sayyaf, a militant group that President Rodrigo Duterte has vowed to crush after decades of banditry, kidnapping and countless attacks on civilian and military targets.
Radical factions of Abu Sayyaf have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Through its Amaq news agency, ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, saying its fighters had infiltrated the base. Amaq posted a photograph of two young men next to a black flag. The men were wearing vests designed to hold explosives.
"Our main suspect is Abu Sayyaf. They are the only ones with motive to sow terror," said Joint Task Force Sulu spokesman Gerald Monfort. "We recovered parts like head, feet. Both of them (belong to males). We still don't know if they are foreign or local."
The bombing killed three soldiers and three civilians - and the two suspected attackers - and wounded 22 others. If confirmed, it would be the Philippines' third suicide bombing in a year, marking a sinister turn in its fight against the militants.
The militants have been joined by fighters from Malaysia and Indonesia, and have capitalised on the southern Philippines' jungles, porous borders and abundant arms.
The attacks were all in the Sulu archipelago, Abu Sayyaf's stronghold, and included a twin bombing of a church on Jolo island in January, which killed 21 people, and a van bomb on neighbouring Basilan island last year, which killed 11.
Those attacks followed a brazen takeover of Marawi City in 2017 by an alliance of domestic and foreign fighters, who held it through months of ground offensives and air strikes before the military prevailed.
More than 1,000 people were killed, most of them insurgents, and half of the city was destroyed.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said that the government would stop at nothing to thwart extremists. "We will run after them until they can run no more," he said.
"The government will harness all its might to destroy the enemies of the state. If these bandits have not learnt from the terrorists who were annihilated in Marawi, then this time they will."
Filipino police have since boosted security in the capital.
Major-General Guillermo Eleazar, director of the National Capital Region Police Office, said yesterday that all units in Metro Manila have been on full alert since Friday night.
"There are no threats detected within the National Capital Region, but as a proactive means in response to this terror attack, the entire region is now placed under full alert status," he said.