Updated at 3:16 p.m. ET on 2019-06-28
Three soldiers were among at least five people killed Friday when two suspected bombers attacked a military post on Jolo, a southern Philippine island where government forces have ramped up operations against a local militant faction linked with Islamic State, officials said.
Nine other government troops were wounded in the explosion outside the tactical command post of the 1st Brigade Combat Team near the village of Kajatan in Indanan town. Both of the suspects were killed, including one who died by setting off his bomb and the other who was shot dead before he could detonate his explosives, officials said.
“We don’t have control of the circumstances,” regional military spokesman Maj. Arvin John Encinas told BenarNews. “An investigation into the attack is ongoing.”
According to a late bulletin by the Associated Press, two civilians were killed in the attack as well.
The bombing occurred when, elsewhere in the region, the military was turning over its southern command to Maj. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana. He had vowed to crush Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) militants blamed for a series of deadly attacks in recent years.
Encinas said the huge explosion occurred at around noon and it appeared the suspects managed to get near the camp undetected.
“We cannot discount the possibility that the ASG or another threat group in the area” was behind the explosion, Encinas said. “As of now, clearing operations are ongoing in the area. We have heightened our alert status.”
The nine wounded soldiers were rushed to the Military Station Hospital inside Camp Gen. Teodulfo Bautista.
Encinas would not comment on the alleged suicide bombers, but the Sulu Police Provincial Office reported the post was hit by an explosion from one of the two suspects.
One would-be bombers was shot dead by soldiers before he blew himself up, but the second bomber blew himself up near the parking area of the camp, the police said.
After the attack, the post came under mortar attack and sniper fire, which precipitated an hour-long gunbattle.
Late Friday, the Islamic State (IS) extremist group, through its Amaq news agency, claimed responsibility for the attack, Reuters reported. The attack came five months after militants believed to be linked to IS bombed a church in Jolo, killing 23.
The military and police have insisted that the church bombing was carried out by operatives under the command of Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan. A little-known Abu Sayyaf commander, he is believed to have taken the reins from Isnilon Hapilon, the former overall IS leader in the south who was killed in a militant siege of Marawi city two years ago.
Friday's attack came as Sobejana officially took over command from Lt. Gen. Arnel dela Vega, who retired a few months ahead of schedule, during a transfer of power ceremony in Zamboanga, which is not far from Jolo.
In Manila, army spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, said the latest attack in Jolo was “meant to disrupt the intensified security operations and our operational tempo following a series of recent operational gains in the area.”
He also condemned the killings of soldiers and vowed the military would respond with “formidable resolve.”
“We assure the Filipino people that we are mobilizing all our capabilities and resources in our effort to help the people of the island of Sulu’s quest for peace and development,” Zagala said.
Joseph Jubelag contributed in General Santos, Philippines, contributed to this report.