Philippine authorities arrested a 58-year-old Filipino man who allegedly helped a Moroccan Islamic State operative plan and carry out a car bombing that killed 10 people on the southern island of Basilan, the military said Thursday.
The man, indentified as Muslim cleric Jainul Malialim Indamin, was arrested Wednesday at his home in Basilan’s Lamitan City, regional military spokesman Col. Gerry Besana said.
“Actually, he is known in their village as a possible link who probably facilitated the bombing,” Besana said, referring to intelligence information gathered about Indamin.
“However, when police went into his house to invite him for questioning a grenade was recovered from his possession,” Besana said.
He said Indamin was being interrogated Thursday, and is held on charges of homicide and murder, as well as illegal possession of an explosive.
Authorities, however, have yet to establish the link between Indamin and Abu Kathir al-Maghribi, a Moroccan identified by the U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group as the bomber, citing a report by the IS’ Amaq news agency.
The suspect, who also goes by the name Abdulgani, allegedly had “full knowledge of the bombing,” according to a military intelligence report.
“Abdulgani also facilitated entry of foreign terrorist fighters coming from Malaysia,” the report said.
The suspect was in a van allegedly carrying explosives when he was stopped at a military checkpoint outside of Lamitan on Tuesday. Reports said he raised suspicion when he could not speak Filipino when questioned minutes before the blast, which left a deep hole in the ground.
Ten people were killed from the blast, including a soldier, several members of a pro-government militia unit and some civilians. Several people were also wounded, investigators said.
On Thursday, police also traced ownership of the van to a man who was a former village head in Lamitan, but it was not clear if he is considered a suspect in the case.
The attack came a few days after President Rodrigo Duterte invited the Abu Sayyaf – a terrorist group known for vicious attacks – to the negotiating table. It also came shortly after he had signed a law giving Muslims in the south autonomy over areas in the south, four years after the government signed a peace deal with the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
MILF to help hunt down militants
MILF leader Murad Ebrahim expressed outrage over the attack and vowed that his forces would help the military track down the plotters of the bombing, which he said undermined the peace deal.
“There will be no compromise with terrorists whose aims are to create chaos, destruction and bloodshed,” Murad said. “No quarters shall be given to them and they must be defeated at once. They must not be allowed to grow.”
Murad directed his lieutenants in Basilan to be in full alert and to coordinate with their counterparts in the military and police in thwarting future attacks.
The peace deal called for the MILF to lead a transitional government before members of the autonomous region are elected in a plebiscite. His fighters would be stripped of their weapons, but could opt to join a regional police force under the command of the central government in Manila.
In 2002, as part of the peace talks, the MILF and government agreed to work “to interdict and isolate” criminal groups, such as kidnappers and terrorists.
Murad said that based on their initial intelligence report, the bomber arrived in Basilan from the southern island of Jolo. Two other militants believed to be foreign nationals arrived using the same route.
He said the foreign terrorists were under the protection of Furuji Indama (alias Abu Dujanah), the Abu Sayyaf’s Basilan commander.
Intelligence sources earlier said the blast could have been directed by Mike Lila, believed to be one of Indama’s aides.
Indama took the reins of the Abu Sayyaf from Isnilon Hapilon, the acknowledged IS commander in the south who led a combat force that included fighters from Southeast Asia and the Middle East who occupied the southern city of Marawi city last year.
More than 1,200 people were killed, including Hapilon and an undetermined number of foreign fighters, in five months of fighting that destroyed Marawi.
“The MILF Central Committee views with deep concerns the latest upsurge of violence and terrorism in Mindanao particularly in Basilan,” Murad said.
“The wounds inflicted on our people and peace-loving people of Marawi City on May 23 last year are still unhealed and aching; and here again, signs are clear,” Murad said. “The terrorists are not yet down and out.”
On Thursday, the European Union joined the United States and France in condemning the attack.
“The EU is determined to combat terrorism around the world and expresses solidarity with the countries affected by this course,” EU ambassador to Manila Franz Jessen said.
Jeoffrey Maitem in Cotabato City and Felipe Villamor in Manila contributed to this report.