MANILA: Philippines army chief Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said on Tuesday that two female suicide bombers were suspected of having carried out attacks in Sulu province which left 16 people dead and 78 wounded.
The military leader investigating Monday’s twin explosions told media that it had been “validated” that the women were responsible for the twin blasts, adding that he would be recommending that Sulu be placed under martial law.
Initially authorities had said that the first explosion took place shortly before noon after a motorcycle rigged with explosives was detonated near a military truck, while a female suicide bomber triggered the second blast close by.
Sobejana revealed that, based on witness accounts and a review of CCTV footage from the area, it now “appeared that a suicide bomber also caused the first explosion.”
He added that the suspects were reportedly the wives of Filipino suicide bomber Norman Lasuca, and Talha Jumsah alias Abu Talha, a bomb expert who also served as the finance conduit and liaison between Daesh and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).
Lasuca and an accomplice were behind an attack on a temporary camp of an army counterterrorism unit in the town of Indanan, Sulu province on June 28 last year. Jumsah was killed in a military operation in the same province in November.
Sobejana said that while the two suspected bombers were being pursued by the four army intelligence officers who were killed by members of Jolo police on June 29, the “suspects slipped from their monitoring.”
He added: “The opportunity was wasted, and it resulted into this. Civilians and many of our comrades died.”
On his push for the introduction of martial law following Monday’s attacks, Sobejana said: “The situation calls for it ... to better control the population ... to bring back normalcy in the area. Otherwise, it will be a repetitive thing, victimizing the locals.
“The intention is to ensure that everything is being controlled, especially the movement of terror groups.”
He added that the situation would also dictate how long martial law should be enforced in the province.
Western Mindanao military chief Maj. Gen. Corleto Vinluan said that the first explosion, which took place near to a military truck parked outside a grocery and computer shop, had killed four soldiers, four civilians, and a policeman. The soldiers were reportedly conducting security operations in the area at the time.
An hour later, while authorities were still investigating the scene, another blast happened 100 meters away causing more casualties, including a woman with a bomb.
Vinluan said a soldier had been checking on the woman when the bomb went off, adding that they had not yet determined the nationality of the female suspect.
Based on the latest reports, 16 people were killed in the blasts, including seven army troopers, one policeman, six civilians, and the two suspected suicide bombers. A total of 78 people are believed to have been wounded including 24 soldiers, six police officers, and 48 civilians.
Joint Task Force Sulu commander Brig. Gen. William Gonzales said some of the victims were children.
Global leaders condemned the bombings with the UN saying that “attacks against civilians are always unacceptable” and calling for perpetrators “to be held accountable.” It expressed condolences to the Philippine government and the communities affected by the twin blasts.
Meanwhile, in a statement, the government of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao headed by Chief Minister Murad Ebrahim, also condemned the bombings and assured that it would “maximize all its resources to make sense of this tragedy and find out and put into justice the perpetrators behind the attacks.”
It added: “At a time when the world grapples with the challenges of a global pandemic and during a period when we are just entering a new phase for the region, an act like this deserves nothing but condemnation and appropriate actions.”