JAKARTA: Police in Indonesia on Tuesday announced that the suicide bombers who killed 22 people in a Catholic church in the Philippines were a married couple thought to be from the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia. They were named as Rullie Rian Zeke and his wife, Ulfah Handayani Saleh.
It follows months of speculation after authorities in the Philippines said that they believed two Indonesians were responsible for the attack on Jolo Island in January.
Indonesian National Police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo said that officers were able to confirm the information that strongly suggested this through statements from two suspected militants: Novendri, who was arrested in Padang, West Sumatra, in July, and Yoga Febrianto, who was arrested in Malaysia last month.
He added that Indonesian anti-terrorism squad Densus 88 had worked with Filipino counterparts to try to identify the bombers using DNA tests but were hampered by a lack of other samples to compare with their remains.
“They entered the Philippines illegally, so their identities were not well recorded,” said Dedi. “There were strong indications that they were Indonesians because they spoke and behaved liked Indonesians. After we arrested Novendri and Yoga Febrianto...they revealed that the two suicide bombers in the Philippines were Indonesians.
“There are indications that the bombers were from Sulawesi but Densus 88 is probing further into their background and addresses, to compare with the DNA results we have.”
Police said Novendri is part of Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), a pro-Daesh Indonesian militant group that carried out a fatal bombing in central Jakarta in January 2016 and a series of bomb attacks in Surabaya, East Java in May 2018, including three on churches. With his arrest, police said they had foiled attacks targeting police in West Sumatra, which were planned for Aug. 17: Indonesia’s Independence Day.
They added that he received orders from Syaifullah, a suspected terrorist mastermind who is on the anti-terror squad’s hit list and is believed to be hiding in Afghanistan's Khorasan province.
Dedi said Syaifullah had received money transfers totaling more than US$28,000 from Western Union between March 2016 and September 2017 from countries including Trinidad and Tobago, the Maldives, Germany, Malaysia and Venezuela.
“These were the funds he received to move the JAD cells in Indonesia,” he added.
“Densus 88 is remapping former terror convicts, those who were deported and returned from Syria, and hunting down those on the hit list in cooperation with counterparts from the Philippines, Malaysia and Afghanistan. This is our preventive action to thwart JAD’s structured terror attacks.”