Soldiers in the southern Philippines have foiled what the army called an attempted suicide bombing in an urban area, the latest in a series of attacks blamed on the ISIL-aligned Abu Sayyaf armed group.
Troops manning a checkpoint on the island of Jolo, Sulu province, engaged in a short gunfight with three men, include two Egyptian nationals on a motorcycle late on Tuesday afternoon, the military said in a statement on Wednesday.
The attackers were killed and bomb vests, a handgun, a grenade and detonators were seized.
The intended target was an urban area of Jolo, the island’s capital, and two of the men were Egyptian, the statement said.
The other man was Filipino and a member of Abu Sayyaf, which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, or ISIS) and is notorious for piracy and kidnapping foreigners. He was identified as alias Dems.
Cirilito Sobejana, military commander of Western Mindanao, identified the two Egyptians as Abduramil and his son, Abdurahman, according to the Manila-based TV station, GMA News.
Rise of suicide bombers
Corleto Vinluan Jr, military commander in Sulu, was quoted by news reports as lauding the “superb planning and careful execution” to stop the operation.
Vinluan also vowed that the military will “continue to hunt down” all the Abu Sayyaf fighters.
The incident would have been the fifth attempted suicide bombing in the southern Philippines in the past 16 months.
Such attacks were previously unheard of despite decades of separatist unrest and lawlessness that has given rise to separatist sentiments in the country’s Mindanao islands, home of the country’s Muslim minority.
It marked a sinister turn in the Philippines’ fight to contain the armed groups inspired by ISIL who have been joined by fighters from Malaysia and Indonesia, including in a brazen attack and five-month occupation of Marawi City in 2017.
The suicide attacks were all in the Sulu archipelago, Abu Sayyaf’s stronghold, and were all claimed by ISIL.
They included a twin bombing of a church in January that killed 21 people, a van bomb at a checkpoint in July 2018 that killed 11, a suicide attack by two youths that killed eight in June, and a woman who prematurely detonated a bomb she was carrying near an army detachment in September.
The attackers included Indonesians, a Moroccan and Filipinos.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has vowed to wipe out Abu Sayyaf and has intensified military operations in its strongholds, although bombings targeting civilians and military have continued unabated.
Since 2017, he has also placed the entire island of Mindanao under martial law. But critics say that despite putting the south under military rule, Duterte has failed to stop the attacks.