MANILA – Three soldiers from the Philippine military and two suspected suicide bombers were killed in a Friday (June 28) noon attack on a special army counter-terrorism unit at a stronghold of Islamic State-linked militants in the Philippines’ restive south.
“It was a bomb and a firefight,” army spokesman Colonel Ramon Zagala told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
The attackers had targeted the temporary headquarters of the 1,500-man First Brigade Combat team in Indanan town on Jolo island.
Twelve soldiers were wounded, said Col Zagala.
An AFP reporter on the scene saw a blood-soaked man slumped on a tricycle on a street in front of the camp.
Initial reports from the Jolo police said the two suspected suicide bombers had managed to trigger their bombs – one as he was being accosted, and the other as he ran towards a parking lot for officers.
Police said other attackers then launched mortar shells on the base, while snipers targeted troops inside for about an hour.
Major Arvin Encinas, spokesman for the army’s Western Mindanao Command, confirmed later in the evening that it was a suicide attack.“The carriers of the bombs were among those who died. There were two explosions,” he said.
But army officials said it could not be ascertained yet what kind of explosives were used or who was behind the attack.
Col Zagala said it was “meant to disrupt the intensified security operations and our operational tempo, following a series of recent operational gains in the area”.
The army had deployed the First Brigade Combat team from Manila early this month.
The unit was specially trained to go after the Abu Sayyaf, an extremist group which had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The incident on Friday is the third suicide attack in the Philippines.
In January, suspected suicide bombers attacked Jolo’s Roman Catholic cathedral, killing 23 people and wounding at least 100.
An Indonesian couple, with help from a faction of the Abu Sayyaf group, were tagged as the attackers.
In July last year, a Moroccan man detonated bombs hidden inside a van he had driven to an army checkpoint on Basilan island, a militant stronghold some 1,000km south of Manila. The blast instantly killed a soldier, five paramilitaries, four civilians – including a mother and her child – and the bomber.
Jolo and other remote areas of the southern Philippines are home to numerous armed groups, including the Abu Sayyaf.
The small but brutal gang of self-styled Islamic militants was founded in the 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network.
The Abu Sayyaf has capitalised on decades of instability in the war-torn southern island of Mindanao to generate tens of millions of dollars from piracy and ransom payments.It prowls waters separating Sulu and Sabah in search of tourists and fishermen.
“Right now, we can’t say who the perpetrators are. But we are not discounting that it may be the Abu Sayyaf,” said Major Encinas.