Indonesia will ask the Philippines to explain its claim that an Indonesian couple was behind the Jan. 27 bomb attack on a Catholic church in Jolo, Sulu, that killed 23 people, and why Jakarta was not notified before the announcement.
In a report on the Indonesian-language news site BeritaSatu, Indonesian Ambassador Sinyo Harry Sarundajang revealed that his government intends to send a note verbale seeking clarification from Interior Secretary Eduardo Año and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.
Earlier, Año said the incident was a case of suicide bombing involving an Indonesian couple, but said it would take time to identify them.
Año said the couple, who reportedly left behind a 10-year-old child in the Philippines, received assistance from the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group.
Sarundajang was also quoted in a separate report saying that the Indonesian embassy in Manila and the Indonesian consulate general in Davao contacted the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA), which reportedly said it did not know the basis for Año’s claim.
“When contacted by the Indonesian Embassy in Manila, the NICA informally expressed its openness to conduct an investigation together with the Indonesian government,” Sarundajang was quoted as saying.
In the BeritaSatu report, Sarundajang lamented that the Philippine government has repeatedly linked Indonesians to terrorist attacks, like the one in Lamitan City, Basilan, on July 31, 2018, and the New Year’s Eve blast in Cotabato City last year, without proof.
“However, the results of the investigation show that there was no involvement of Indonesian citizens in the two bombings, as stated by the officials and the media reports,” the report quoted the ambassador as saying.
Sarundajang also reportedly said that residents and families of the Jolo bombing victims refuse to believe that the attack was perpetrated by Indonesian suicide bombers.
Indonesia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi also said there is no evidence yet that the perpetrators of the bomb attack were Indonesians, Sarundajang said.
“Until now, the investigation process is still ongoing, so it cannot be ascertained that the perpetrators are Indonesian citizens,” Indonesia’s top diplomat said.
The Department of National Defense, meanwhile, was quiet on a statement by Año that Abu Sayyaf Group leader Hajan Sawadjaan, who allegedly masterminded the Jolo, Sulu bomb attack, is now the new Islamic State (ISIS) emir in the Philippines, saying the information needed to be verified.
“The DND and Armed Forces of the Philippines [AFP] have our own validation method independent of the PNP and other government agencies,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said. “It would be inappropriate to issue further comments on this until we have received verification and confirmation from our own sources.”
In a separate message, AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said the terrorist group has its own selection process.
“The AFP is not privy to it and will not issue any confirmation. But whoever they recognize as such, we assure our people that the AFP’s desire to neutralize him and his terrorist cohorts is consistent and undiminished,” he added.
Arevalo also said AFP Chief-of-Staff Gen. Benjamin Madrigal is determined to employ all the capabilities of the military and apply the full force of the law against the terrorists.
“We will not stop until justice is served for the hapless civilians who were victims of their vicious attacks,” he added.
The AFP spokesman also said they are still confirming reports that ASG leader Idang Susukan was killed during recent military operations in Jolo.
“He was previously reported to be seriously wounded during the fierce encounter between the ASG and the AFP’s 41st Infantry Battalion,” Arevalo said.
“Progress reports from various sources on the ground indicate that he eventually died due to the severe injuries he sustained in that firefight. Notwithstanding these reports that tend to confirm each other, our troops in the area endeavor to locate his remains for us to conclusively report through DNA test that he indeed is dead,” he added.
He said if the death is confirmed, this would be yet another serious blow to the leadership of the Abu Sayyaf.
On Friday, Año congratulated the police and the military for their prompt action in solving the Jolo church attack.
“As far as the government is concerned, the Jolo bombing case is already solved. We have already identified the perpetrators of the bombing and they are now under police custody. As to the other conspirators, an intensive manhunt is now under way and we will continue to pursue them until all those involved are brought to the bar of justice,” he said in a statement issued Thursday.
Citing intelligence reports, survivors’ statements and post-blast and forensic investigation, the DILG chief reiterated that an unidentified Indonesian couple was behind the blast.
Investigators said the Indonesian woman was the one who set of the bomb inside the church, while the man rushed to the church entrance to detonate his explosives just as churchgoers were rushing out and police were responding to the attack.
Año said the man was known by his alias, “Abu Huda” and had been in the Philippines for a long time while the woman arrived in the country just days before the bomb attack.
He said the government was working with the help of Indonesian security and intelligence agencies.
Over the weekend, five suspects linked to the bomb attack at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral surrendered to authorities.
They were identified by PNP Chief, Director General Oscar Albayalde, as Kammah Pae alias Kammah, from Abu Sayyaf Group-affiliated Ajang-Ajang; Albaji Kisae alias Awag, his sons Rajan Bakil alias Radjan, and Kaisar Bakil alias Isal; and Salit Alih alias Papong.
“Our security forces, particularly the PNP with the help of the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines], are conducting an intensified operation to track down and arrest the 14 other accomplices who are involved in the bombing. The long arm of the law will catch up with them sooner than later,” he said.
Año said charges for 23 counts of murder, 95 counts of frustrated murder, and damage to property have been filed by state lawyers before the Jolo Regional Trial Court against the five suspects.
Other respondents are Sawadjaan, Usman Absarah, Barak Ingog, Makrim Abisi, Bapah Absara, one alias Ebing, and several John and Jane Does.
The DILG chief, however, said that law enforcers should not let their guard down, and must remain alert, and intensify security measures in places with high volume of people.
He also urged the public to report to the police or their barangay of any suspicious activity of groups or individuals in their communities.
Police said Friday that DNA from some body parts found at the crime scene were now with the PNP Crime Laboratory for testing. With PNA