Philippine security officials on Wednesday pushed for amending the anti-terrorism law to allow for longer detentions of suspects, while authorities announced that DNA tests had confirmed the identity of the first Filipino known to have carried out a suicide bombing in the country.
On June 28, two suspected Islamic State-linked militants killed themselves, three soldiers and three civilians when they detonated explosives near the main gate of an army camp in southern Sulu province. Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the bombing that also wounded 22 people, most of them civilians.
The attack spurred authorities to review security protocols and scramble to protect vital installations across the Southeast Asian nation, but officials said the limited time to interrogate suspects properly made it difficult to extract vital information.
The attack in Sulu also underscored the urgency of the military’s recommendation to amend the country’s Human Security Act by increasing the authorized detention period for suspected terrorists from three to 20 days, military spokesman Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said.
“Based from local experience and that abroad, suspected terrorists are firm and determined,” Arevalo told BenarNews, adding that interrogators often had a “difficult time to obtain admission of guilt or information.”
“It takes more than three days for them to yield. And detaining them beyond that maximum period makes the authorities susceptible to be charged with arbitrary detention, unless the law is amended,” he said.
He also called for the removal of a 500,000-peso (U.S. $10,000) daily fine for any member of the security force who may have wrongfully detained a suspect.
The Human Security Act, which took effect in 2007, is the country’s primary anti-terrorism law that brings the Philippines in line with its Southeast Asian neighbors in battling militants.
Match with mother’s DNA
Also on Wednesday, a statement issued by the military said that one of the bombers in the June 28 attack was identified through DNA tests as Norman Lasuca.
“The AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and the PNP (Philippine National Police) would like to allay the fears of our countrymen … where we can confirm … the incidence of the first suicide bombing in the Philippines perpetrated by Norman Lasuca,” the statement quoted Arevalo as saying.
The DNA sample of 23-year-old Lasuca (pictured), an alleged member of the IS-linked Abu Sayyaf group, matched that of his mother, Vilman Lasuca, national police spokesman Col. Bernard Banac told reporters. Samples were matched with two people who had claimed Lasuca’s remains.
“There is 99.99 percent percentage probability match on the DNA sample taken from Vilman Lasuca and samples of the alleged suicide bomber,” Banac said.
Banac, however, said they had yet to establish the identity and nationality of the other suicide bomber, because military and police were still collecting DNA samples.
Days after the twin-suicide bombing, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters that the manner of the attack signified a “very important development” with major security implications because it marked the first time that Filipinos were used as suicide bombers.
Arevalo also said that the military had already deployed additional forces to the Sulu Islands “to intensify the conduct of a surgical and focused military operation” against Abu Sayyaf Group militants.
The military and police aim to “stop the spread of radicalism and violent extremism and isolate and cut the support of the nexus points of local terrorist groups,” he said.
“We vigorously continue our collaboration and information sharing with our counterpart nations like Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia and the United States to name a few, to harness our conduct of operations,” Arevalo said, without giving specifics.
Military intelligence reports indicate that Lasuca was a member of an Abu Sayyaf faction controlled by Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, a religious elder identified by the U.S. Defense Department as the new head of Islamic State in the Philippines.
Sawadjaan replaced Isnilon Hapilon, who was killed near the end of a five-month battle after he and other militants had seized the southern Philippine city of Marawi in May 2017.
Sawadjaan’s group was blamed for explosions that killed 23 people at a church in Jolo, the capital of Sulu, in January. That attack took place five months after a German of Moroccan descent drove a van filled with explosives through a checkpoint in southern Basilan island, leaving 11 dead.
Rommel Banlaoi, head of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, revealed that an Egyptian couple was allegedly plotting a series of bomb attacks in the country upon instructions from IS.
Banlaoi, citing his own sources, claimed that the two had entered the country and were believed linked to the Indonesians responsible for the cathedral bomb attack. Indonesia, which had earlier sent its own investigators to the southern Philippines, rejected that claim made by local police.
“The couple is in the Philippines to conduct intermittent bombing operations,” he said.
However, the military has yet to receive information regarding the alleged Egyptian couple, Arevalo said.
“We have no information on the alleged Egyptian couple in cahoots with local terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group in IED explosions in Sulu,” Arevalo told BenarNews.
National police chief Oscar Albayalde, meanwhile, told reporters that he could not confirm the information about alleged Egyptian suicide bombers.
“It’s not yet confirmed,” he said. “Although, yes, with the past incidents there were foreign nationals involved in suicide bombings, we cannot deny the fact that there are foreigners in the country that can do it.”
Joseph Jubelag contributed to this report from General Santos City, Philippines.