JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Analysts have raised doubts over claims made by a senior Philippine government official that an Indonesian couple was behind the church bombings in the southern Philippines, citing a lack of evidence.
Ms Sidney Jones, director of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), said on Saturday (Feb 2) that Manila was apparently still in the dark over the identity of the bombing perpetrators.
"There's no evidence! Different officials are saying different things - Malaysians, Yemenis, Indonesians. They actually have no clue," Ms Jones told The Jakarta Post in a text message on Saturday.
Philippine Interior Minister Eduardo Ano had earlier said that based on witness accounts and information from undisclosed sources, he was convinced that Indonesian citizens committed suicide bombings at a Roman Catholic church on Jan 27 in Jolo. The town of Jolo, the capital of Sulu province, has long been plagued by separatism led by Islamist groups.
"They are Indonesians," Mr Ano, a former military chief, told CNN Philippines, as reported by AFP. "I am certain that they are Indonesians."
He also claimed that other foreign terrorists were still operating in the Philippines, suggesting they could be either Yemeni or Egyptian.
Political analyst Fitriani of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) concurred withMr Jones, saying that without evidence it was too early to conclude that Indonesians were involved in the bombings.
However, Ms Fitriani, who like most Indonesians go by one name, did not rule out the possibility of Indonesian militants being involved in the attacks, given the geographical proximity between the two countries. She added that the border between Indonesia and the Philippines also lies in the sea, making it hard for the authorities to monitor.
During the armed conflict between the Islamic State-linked Maute group and Philippine security forces in Marawi two years ago, a number of Indonesian militants were believed to have gone to the Philippine city to join the fight alongside the militants.
At the time, calls for a holy war in the Philippines circulated on social media accounts linked to Indonesian militant groups such as Jemaah Ansharu Daulah, which was said to have sent dozens of its members there.
Ms Fitriani said Indonesia would have to share intelligence information with Manila following allegations that its citizens carried out a deadly terror act in a foreign country. "Indonesia will usually share anything needed," she said.
The bombings, she said, should serve as a wake-up call for South-east Asian countries to strengthen their cooperation in the war on terror, particularly in terms of intelligence sharing.
Indonesia has initiated intelligence partnership Our Eyes, which was endorsed by Asean member states last year. "It is needed more than ever. Terrorism is an enemy to all countries," she said, adding that the Jolo attacks were feared to awaken sleeping terrorist cells in Indonesia and other neighbouring countries.
Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi on Saturday said she was still seeking confirmation on the identity of the bombing perpetrators.
She said Jakarta had talked to the Philippine authorities and was told that the identity of the perpetrators had not yet been determined.
"Based on information we gathered this morning, the perpetrators have yet to be confirmed because the investigation and identification process are still ongoing," she said in a video statement recorded in Padang, West Sumatra.
She also said that Jakarta had yet to decide what to do next, as it was currently focusing on following the investigation process.