Crime & Justice

Masterminds of southern Philippines attack escape, increases threat

Manila, 31 Aug (efe-epa).- The masterminds of last week’s twin suicide bombing in Jolo, in the southern Philippines, managed to escape the island and are believed to be hiding in Zamboanga, the main city of Muslim Mindanao region, where they pose a fresh security threat.

Zamboanga Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco said in a radio interview on Monday that there was a threat throughout the region, and although they did not know exactly where, all the authorities had been alerted.

The attack’s mastermind and bomb expert, Mundi Sawadjaan, managed to escape Sulu province – a remote and impoverished archipelago in the southern Philippines where the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group is known to be present – along with two others, believed to be a man and a woman of Indonesian nationality.

Zamboanga authorities have stepped up military checks in the area and placed photos of Mundi and his accomplices, Andi Baso and his wife Reski Fantasya.

The authorities have offered a reward of three million pesos (around $62,000) for information leading to the arrest of the three suspects, who are believed to be in the region to spread fear and possibly carry out fresh attacks.

The attack, which caused the death of 15 people and left 75 injured, was carried out by the widows of two militants of Abu Sayyaf, an organization linked to the Islamic State (IS) that has taken refugee in the remote and troubled Sulu province.

Military intelligence indicated that Mundi, nephew of the current leader of Abu Sayyaf, was the mastermind of the attack, and another similar one in January 2019, when two suicide bombers detonated two bombs during Sunday Mass at the Jolo cathedral in January 2019, in which 23 people were killed and more than 100 injured.

Abu Sayyaf – designated as a terrorist organization by the Philippines, the United States and the European Union – was founded in the 1990s by veterans of the Afghanistan war against the Soviet Union.

The group gained international notoriety for attacks and kidnappings targeting foreign tourists and Christian missionaries, and have been further radicalized since swearing allegiance to IS in 2014.

Moreover, it is responsible for the worst terror attacks in the Philippines, such as the bombing of a ferry in 2004 in which 116 people were killed.

Although Islamist terrorism is not new to the Philippines, suicide attacks do not correspond to the classic modus operandi of local groups, but have emerged as a recent threat in the country.

The Philippines has already recorded five such attacks in two years, all claimed by IS and committed with the logistical support of Abu Sayyaf, which of late has been witnessing an influx of foreign extremists fleeing since the fall of the IS.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte visited the troops stationed in Jolo on Sunday, and congratulated them for their efforts in the restive region.

Moreover, he underlined that the latest attacks “will only further strengthen our resolve to crush the lawless elements behind this cowardly act.” EFE-EPA


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