MANILA: Five suspected Abu Sayyaf militants accused of involvement in the deadly bombing of a Roman Catholic cathedral in the southern Philippines have surrendered to authorities, the national police chief said.
Police director-general Oscar Albayalde said yesterday that the five would be charged with murder and attempted murder for their role in the Jan 27 attack at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral in Sulu province’s Jolo town, which killed 23 people and wounded about 100 others.
Police have said the attack was carried out by two Indonesian suicide bombers.
They said the suspects taken into custody had escorted the two Indonesians around Jolo and to a meeting with Abu Sayyaf commander Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, who has been accused of plotting and funding the attack.
Police said the five suspects were led by a suspected local militant identified as Kammah Pae (pic), who has denied any involvement in the bombing.
The attack has renewed terrorism fears across the Philippines, with national police placed on full alert and security strengthened in churches, shopping malls and other public areas.
President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered troops to destroy the Abu Sayyaf, leading to a renewed military offensive in the south that has included airstrikes and gunbattles.
The attack has highlighted concerns that the Islamic State group may be gaining a foothold in South-East Asia after sustaining major battle setbacks in Syria and Iraq.
Local militants aligned with the brutal extremist group laid siege to Marawi city in the southern Philippines for five months in 2017 before they were defeated by the military.
Albayalde said the Abu Sayyaf, a small but violent group based in the jungles of predominantly Muslim Jolo and outlying island provinces, staged the cathedral bombing to gain attention and possible funding from IS.
The militants also wanted to foment sectarian conflict between minority Muslims in the south and the country’s majority Christians, he said.
“It’s the same reason why they pledged allegiance to IS. They are seeking funding and they are bombing, kidnapping and murdering targets to get funds from IS,” Albayalde said at a news conference in Manila.
The Abu Sayyaf, which has about 300 to 400 armed fighters, has been blacklisted by the United States and the Philippines as a terrorist organisation because of years of bombings, kidnappings and beheadings.
The commander that police have implicated in the cathedral attack, Sawadjaan, is a Muslim preacher who has been linked to ransom kidnappings and the beheadings of hostages, including two Canadian men in 2016.
Citing witnesses and statements by some of the suspects, Albayalde said Sawadjaan funded the assembly of the cathedral bombs, which most likely were detonated by an Indonesian man, who had hidden in the south for about a year, and an Indonesian woman, who only recently entered the south. — AP