(Eagle News) — Two explosions rocked Jolo, Sulu today, Monday, Aug. 24, killing seven soldiers, six civilians, one policeman, and injuring scores of people near a grocery store and a computer shop along a busy street.
The first explosion happened at 11:53 a.m while the second one was at around 1 p.m.
Police initially reported at least six casualties — five soldiers and the sixth initially tagged as the female suicide bomber.
Later, the number of dead rose to 14, including six civilians, according to a report by Lt. Col Ronald Mateo, civil military operations officer of the 11th Infantry Division.
Those injured in the blasts were 48 civilians, 19 soldiers, and 9 police personnel, a report by the Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Mindanao Command (WESMINCOM) said as of 5:29 p.m.
The blasts happened in the vicinity of Paradise Food and Syntax computer shop in Barangay Walled City, Jolo, Sulu.
Police immediately responded to the scene to evacuate the casualties and ensure the safety of other residents.
“The Joint Task Force Sulu extricated the wounded individuals to Camp General Teodulfo Bautista Hospital for immediate treatment. Furthermore, the area was cordoned and the whole Metro Jolo was locked down to prevent further casualties,” according to a Facebook post by the 11th Infantry Division.
Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Police General Archie Francisco Gamboa has already directed police to secure the area and probe the incident.
Initial reports said that among those killed were soldiers who were assisting in COVID-19 related humanitarian efforts.
The first blast happened after an improvised explosive device (IED) in a motorcyle parked near a military truck was detonated. This resulted in the death of six soldiers near the area.
-Female suicide bomber in 2nd blast-
The second blast happened after a female suicide bomber who was about to go near a crowd was thwarted by another soldier. If not for the heroic efforts of this soldier, more persons would have been killed in the incident, Mateo said.
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, Mateo said.
“Our soldiers are conducting security operations. That was the time that the improvised explosive device detonated,” he said.
There was a second blast a short time later in the same street when a female suicide attacker blew herself up as police cordoned off the area, killing one person and wounding around six officers, Lieutenant General Corleto Vinluan said.
A solider had been trying to apprehend the bomber when she detonated her explosives, he added.
Abu Sayyaf was “most probably” behind the double bombing, Mateo said.
– Blasts follow arrest –
Listed by the United States as a terrorist organisation, 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 explosions 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.
(Eagle News Service with a report from Agence France-Presse)