Philippine Police Arrest Suspected Militant Bomb Expert Linked to Jolo Church Attack

BenarNews staff
Zamboanga, Philippines
2021-11-23
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Philippine Police Arrest Suspected Militant Bomb Expert Linked to Jolo Church Attack Police in Zamboanga City, Philippines, released this photo of Kalmi Ammad Mustala, an alleged Abu Sayyaf bomb expert, after his arrest, Nov. 23, 2021.
Handout photo from the Zamboanga City Police Department

A suspected Abu Sayyaf bomb expert linked to the deadly blast at a church in the southern Philippines in January 2019 was arrested in a village near Zamboanga city on Tuesday, police said.

The suspect, identified as Kalmi Ammad Mustala, 42, was nabbed mid-morning at a beachfront area near Recodo village, city police director Col. Rexmel Reyes said. Police officers from the city’s mobile force, backed by police and intelligence forces on Jolo Island, carried out the raid, he said.

“Kalmi Mustala, who was avoiding arrest … is now behind bars as the Philippine National Police Zamboanga City Police Office steps up its series of Oplan Manhunt Charlie operations across the city,” Reyes said.

“The operation was conducted against Mustala through a warrant of arrest issued by the Sulu court dated June 19, 2021, for cases of illegal possession of explosives,” Reyes said. “The explosives were used in the commission of the crimes of double frustrated murder and double attempted murder.”

Reyes said Mustala was an active member of the Abu Sayyaf Group based in the southern Sulu Islands, believed to be a “bomb expert involved in the twin bombing incident at Jolo Cathedral last Jan. 27, 2019.”

Police did not release specific details about the incidents that led to the arrest warrant. “Frustrated murder” is described as an attack where the victim would have been killed if not for timely medical intervention.

The attack in January 2019 was carried out by an Indonesian couple who strapped bombs to their bodies before blowing themselves up inside the Jolo church, killing themselves and 21 others.

Police said the bombings were masterminded by Abu Sayyaf leader Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, who succeeded Isnilon Hapilon as the Philippine commander of the extremist group known as Islamic State. Hapilon was among hundreds of militants killed in 2017 when he and others led a five-month militant siege of the southern city of Marawi.

Authorities have said they believe Sawadjaan was killed in a July 2020 clash with the military in Jolo even though his body was not recovered. His nephew, Mundi Sawadjaan, retaliated by launching a twin bomb attack in August 2020 that killed 14 in Jolo.

Reyes alleged that Mustala also was involved in kidnappings targeting foreigners, including Swiss national Lorenzo Vinciguerra and Dutchman Ewold Horn who were abducted in Tawi-Tawi sometime in February 2012 while bird watching.

Vinciguerra escaped after he fought his captors during a military operation in 2014, but Horn’s captors shot him dead when he tried to escape during another military operation in May 2019.

In addition, Mustala was linked to kidnappings involving Indonesian fishing boat crews, police said.

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