He’s the commander-in-chief and therefore privy to classified information. So people believe President Duterte when he announces that two foreign suicide bombers were likely responsible for the explosions that killed at least 21 people and wounded about 100 others during the morning mass last Sunday at the cathedral in Jolo, Sulu.
A woman blew herself up inside the church while her male companion, said to be her husband, was responsible for the blast in a military outpost just outside the Our Lady of Mount Carmel cathedral, the President said. Both bombers were reportedly Yemenis.
The President also reportedly declared war on the terrorist Islamic State, giving credence to the group’s claim of responsibility for the attack. Security officials had earlier dismissed the IS claim, pointing instead to an Abu Sayyaf cell, called Ajang-Ajang, as the likely culprit. Yesterday, the Armed Forces conducted airstrikes on Abu Sayyaf lairs in Sulu, heralding the start of an offensive against the extremist group.
Counterterrorism officials said the information on the Yemeni couple, which apparently came from a Singapore-based security analyst, still had to be validated. For now, however, the statement of the commander-in-chief is not going to be ignored.
This would take the extremist threat to a new and potentially more dangerous level. Suicide bombers are among the most lethal weapons in the terrorist arsenal. Filipino Islamists are not known to be suicidal, preferring instead to commit homicide and murder.
Defense officials are reportedly monitoring around 40 foreigners believed to be terrorists in Basilan, Sulu and parts of SOCCSKSARGEN. While validating intel, security officials cannot afford to discount the possible involvement of foreigners in the attack on the Jolo cathedral. It wouldn’t be the first time: an Indonesian bomb-maker of the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah was convicted in connection with the deadly bomb attacks on a Light Rail Transit coach and several other targets in Metro Manila on Dec. 30, 2000.
The idea of foreign suicide bombers operating in the Philippines may sound wild. With 21 people dead and about 100 others wounded, however, no angle can be considered too farfetched to pursue. If the terrorist threat has been carried to a new level, security officials cannot afford to be unprepared.
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