Philippine authorities have filed criminal charges against 43 suspected militants linked to recent bombing in the southern Philippines, including a car bomb that killed 11 people on Basilan island, the national police chief said Monday.
Eighteen members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) were charged with murder for the July 31 bombing in Basilan, when a van packed with explosives rammed through a check point in Lamitan city, Police Director General Oscar Albayalde said.
In addition, 25 members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) group were charged with murder for an Aug. 28 bombing at a night market in Isulan, the capital of Sultan Kudarat province, police said. At least three people were killed and dozens injured in that explosion.
“I am pleased to announce that the PNP (Philippine National Police) has filed two separate criminal cases for murder and multiple frustrated murder before the Regional Trial Court Branch 2 of Isabela City against 18 suspects involved in the July 31, 2018 bombing of a CAFGU (militia) detachment in Lamitan city,” Albayalde said.
Eight of the 18 have been detained, including Musa Jallaha, described as the “middle man” who helped purchase and rig the van with explosives; Julamin Arundoh, an explosives expert who rigged the bomb components; and Abdurahim Lijal (alias Mike Lidjal), a sub-commander of the Abu Sayyaf who acted as an armed escort.
Lidjal is said to be close to Basilan Abu Sayyaf faction chief Furuji Indama, who was also among the 18 suspects charged.
Little is known about Lidjal, except that he goes also by the name Abu Fati, who is known to have helped facilitate the entry into Basilan of some foreign Muslim extremists.
Indama, on the other hand, is known to be the second in command to Abu Sayyaf Basilan factional commander Isnilon Hapilon, who was the Islamic State’s (IS) chief in the Philippines when he led a combat force that included fighters from Southeast Asia and the Middle East in laying siege to the southern city of Marawi last year.
“Ten more suspects are at large and now the subject of region-wide manhunt operations,” Albayalde said, adding that Indama had “ordered the bombing.”
Albayalde would not comment on an earlier claim by IS that the bombing was carried out by its own operative, a Moroccan national whom it identified as Abu Kathy al-Maghribi.
The Philippine defense and military establishment had been divided over the identity of the Basilan bomber, with at least one official, Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano, indicating that the attacker was a foreign suspect. He was not available to comment on Monday’s developments.
The Basilan attack occurred shortly after President Rodrigo Duterte wooed the Abu Sayyaf to the table for peace talks. He had earlier signed a law giving Muslims a new autonomous region in the south, four years after the rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed a peace deal.
The BIFF had accused the MILF of selling out to Manila, and had vowed to continue the fight for an independent Islamic state in the predominantly Muslim south. But while it also pledged allegiance to IS, BIFF did not send fighters to Marawi.
Dennis Jay Santos and Mark Navales, in Davao City and Cotabato City, Philippines contributed to this report.