Soldiers recovered 16 pipe bombs and arrested an Islamic State-linked militant in a follow-up operation in the southern Philippines, after security forces killed three men, including two foreigners, as they allegedly tried to launch a bomb attack using suicide vests, the military said Thursday.
The man, identified only by his nickname or alias “Mang,” was captured Tuesday night in a village in remote Indanan town, said Col. Gerald Monfort, spokesman of the Joint Task Force Sulu. Earlier on the same day, three suspected would-be suicide bombers were killed as they tried to pass through a security roadblock and engaged troops in a firefight.
The slain foreigners had Middle Eastern facial features and authorities said they were working with Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, an Abu Sayyaf commander considered by both American and Filipino intelligence officials as the Islamic State’s local chief.
Monfort said the belated announcement of Mang’s arrest was on purpose, because he had undergone tactical debriefing for possible follow-up security operations to uncover the bombing plots.
“Alias Mang confessed to the location of the locally assembled improvised explosive devices in an Abu Sayyaf group warehouse,” Monfort said, describing the explosives as “16 pieces of unrigged pipe bombs fashioned from cut iron pipes that looked like dynamite sticks.”
The explosives were similar to IEDs that were found rigged to two vests recovered Tuesday from the three slain men.
Military forces in the south remain on a heightened state of alert to thwart any bombing attempts by the Abu Sayyaf following intelligence reports that the group could carry out “sympathy attacks” after the recent death of IS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was killed when he detonated a suicide vest during a U.S. Special Forces raid in northwestern Syria.
Sawadjaan succeeded Isnilon Hapilon, another Abu Sayyaf commander who was killed at the end of a militant siege of the southern city of Marawi city two years ago. Troops took control of the Marawi after five months of firefights and aerial bombings that devastated the city and killed 1,200 people, most of them militants.
Military officials said Sawadjaan masterminded three recent deadly bombings on Jolo, including a suicide bomb attack by an Indonesian militant couple that killed 23 people at a church in late January.