At least 14 people were killed and 75 wounded — including members of the security forces and civilians — in twin bombings Monday involving a suicide attacker on a Philippine island that is a stronghold of Islamist militants, officials said.
The apparently coordinated attacks happened in Jolo in Muslim-majority Sulu, where government-backed security forces have long been fighting the Abu Sayyaf group.
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Seven soldiers, a police officer, and six civilians were killed in the two bombings, the first at around midday when an improvised explosive device attached to a motorcycle parked outside a supermarket blew up, Lieutenant General Corleto Vinluan said.
That was followed by a second blast a short time later in the same street when a suicide attacker blew herself up as security forces cordoned off the area, Vinluan said.
A soldier had been trying to apprehend the bomber when she detonated her explosives, he added.
A total of 48 civilians were also wounded along with 21 soldiers and six police.
A soldier saw a person leave the motorbike outside the grocery store “where there were a lot of people” including members of the military. It immediately detonated, Lieutenant Colonel Ronaldo Mateo said.
“Our soldiers are conducting security operations. That was the time that the improvised explosive device detonated,” he said.
Abu Sayyaf was “most probably” behind the double bombing, Mateo said.
Blasts Follow Arrest
Listed by the United States as a terrorist organization, Abu Sayyaf is a loose network of Islamic militants blamed for the Philippines’ worst terror attacks as well as kidnappings of foreign tourists and Christian missionaries.
They also have ties to Islamic State militants seeking to set up a caliphate in Southeast Asia.
Monday’s attacks come after the arrest earlier this month of an Abu Sayyaf leader on the southern island of Mindanao.
Security forces had been on alert for possible reprisal attacks after detaining Abduljihad Susukan, who is accused of kidnapping and beheading several foreigners.
He has been charged with 23 murders, five kidnappings, and six attempted murders, police have said.
President Rodrigo Duterte‘s spokesman Harry Roque condemned the “dastardly attacks” and issued condolences to the families and loved ones of those killed.
“We call on the residents of Jolo to stay vigilant and report suspicious personalities and unattended items in their areas,” Roque said.
The Philippine Coast Guard issued a “red alert” for Sulu and several other areas in the restive south as it assists the military and police in responding to the incident.
The explosions happened near a Catholic cathedral in Jolo where two suicide bombers blew themselves up in January 2019 killing 21 people. It was blamed on a group linked to Abu Sayyaf.