Philippines security forces investigating a deadly twin bombing at a church on a predominantly Muslim southern island are zeroing in on what they say is an affiliate of the militant Abu Sayyaf Group.
DiasporPress reports citing Reuters that, twenty people were killed and more than 100 wounded in Sunday’s attack on Jolo island, shocking a region that only days earlier delivered a resounding "yes” in a plebiscite on greater autonomy for the Muslim-dominated south.
Who are the main suspects?
Jolo is a stronghold of the militant Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), making it a prime candidate.
More specifically, authorities believe the bomb attack was orchestrated by a faction called "Ajang-Ajang”, which is notorious for kidnapping and extortion in Sulu province. It is the first time the military has mentioned this group.
What was the motive?
Police believe Ajang-Ajang carried out the attack in revenge for the deaths of relatives killed during military operations against Abu Sayyaf.
According to Rommel Banlaoi, head of the Philippine Institute for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, the group’s members consider themselves "soldiers of martyrs” and appear highly capable, having pulled off such a devastating attack when security was tight for the referendum.
"This group outsmarted law enforcement authorities,” Banlaoi said. "Sulu has been receiving threats coming from this group. This will inspire other groups to do some more.”
Church attack linked to Islamic state?
Islamic State, via its Amaq news agency, claimed responsibility for the church attack, although the details it gave were not consistent with those from authorities. The group said the attack was twin suicide bombings, rather than remotely detonated devices, and its death toll appears to be exaggerated.
Security analyst Banlaoi considers Ajang-Ajang to be pro-Islamic State, noting that it is led by the father-in-law of Malaysian operative Amin Baco, who was involved in planning the Marawi occupation.