The suicide bombers who launched twin attacks this week in the southern Philippines were both widows of pro-Islamic State fighters, military officials said Wednesday as they released new details about the first joint terror act carried out in the country by wives of dead extremists.
Monday’s bombings on Jolo Island, a hotbed of the Abu Sayyaf Group, killed at least 15 people in addition to the two bombers and left more than 70 injured. It was the deadliest militant attack since the group aligned with Islamic State (IS) carried out a twin suicide bombing at a local church last year.
Army chief Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said one of Monday’s suicide attackers was identified as Nanah, the widow of Norman Lasuca, who was considered the country’s first suicide bomber. The other bomber was identified as Indah Nay, the widow of slain Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Talha Jumsah, who was also known as Abu Talha. Both the female bombers’ names were aliases, Sobejana said.
“Based on the information gathered from the ground there were two female suicide bombers – one was the wife of Lasuca the first Filipino suicide bomber, and the other was the wife of Abu Talha whom our troops neutralized last November in the encounter,” Sobejana, who was visiting troops in the central Philippines, told BenarNews by phone.
Lasuca, 23, was one of two suicide bombers who detonated themselves in an attack in June in Jolo that wounded 22 people. Jumsah, or Talha, was killed in a clash with security forces in November 2019 in the southern Philippines.
He was said to be IS liaison for a group under Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, an Abu Sayyaf commander who is the local leader of the IS branch in the Philippines. The military had said earlier this week it was likely that Monday’s attacks were planned by Mundi Sawadjaan, a bomb maker (pictured below) who is believed to be a nephew of the commander.
Army officials on Wednesday shared more information about the latest suicide attack.
The first bomber detonated an improvised bomb strapped to her body near two military trucks parked in front of a restaurant, which was located across from a plaza and the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral. The church was the site of the January 2019 twin-bomb attack that killed 23 people during Sunday Mass services.
Minutes later, the second woman bomber clad in a burqa detonated a bomb she had concealed on her body after she was prevented from entering an area that was already cordoned off by troops.
Since Monday, security forces have remained “on high alert to deter similar attacks,” armed forces chief Gen. Gilbert Gapay said on Wednesday.
“Combat and intelligence operations were also ramped up to pursue those responsible,” Gapay said in a statement. “The Abu Sayyaf group will not deter us from, nor shake, our resolve to bring an end to their violence.”
The whole of Sulu also continues be on military lockdown.
Western Mindanao Command chief Maj. Gen. Corleto Vinluan said he met with local officials on Wednesday to assess whether the lockdown needs to be extended.
An Abu Sayyaf commander arrested
In ongoing security operations against the Abu Sayyaf Group, the police said a team of their officers and army intelligence operatives on Wednesday had arrested Jamiul Nassalon, 41, an Abu Sayyaf commander wanted for several kidnappings in southern Zamboanga Sibugay province. The team picked him up during a raid near Mabuhay, a town in the province.
“He [Nassalon] has been in hiding for years and [posed] as a seaweed farmer,” said Zamboanga peninsula police director Brig. Gen. Jesus Cambay Jr., adding that Nassalon goes by several aliases, including Ustadz Amih and Abu Harris.
Cambay said that in addition to kidnapping, Nassalon was wanted for multiple attempted murders, and serious illegal detention with demands for ransom. For instance, it is believed he was involved in the 2009 abduction of a landowner on Basilan Island who was later beheaded when his family failed to meet a ransom demand.
Mark Navales and Jeoffrey Maitem contributed to this report from Cotabato City, Philippines.