2019 Jolo Cathedral bombings

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2019 Jolo Cathedral bombings
Aftermath of the Jolo Cathedral bombings.jpg
Aftermath of the bombing inside the Cathedral Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
2019 Jolo Cathedral bombings is located in Philippines
2019 Jolo Cathedral bombings
2019 Jolo Cathedral bombings (Philippines)
Location of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral in Jolo, Sulu.
The site of the bombings.
LocationJolo, Sulu
Coordinates6°03′09″N 121°00′03″E / 6.0526°N 121.0009°E / 6.0526; 121.0009Coordinates: 6°03′09″N 121°00′03″E / 6.0526°N 121.0009°E / 6.0526; 121.0009
DateJanuary 27, 2019 (2019-01-27)
08:28[1] (UTC+08:00)
TargetOur Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral, Jolo
WeaponsAmmonium nitrate pipe bombs[2]
Deaths20 (14 civilians, 5 soldiers and 1 coast-guardsman)[3]
Non-fatal injuries
102[3]
PerpetratorsIslamic State of Iraq and the Levant Abu Sayyaf
(Ajang-Ajang faction)[4][5][6]
No. of participants
6[7]

On the morning of January 27, 2019, two bombs exploded at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Jolo, Sulu, in the Philippines. Twenty people were killed and 102 others injured.[3] The bombings took place a week after the autonomy plebiscite held on January 21 for the creation of Bangsamoro Autonomous Region. It is believed that the attacks were carried out by the Abu Sayyaf, and the Islamic State claimed responsibility. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte responded by issuing an "all-out war" directive against the Abu Sayyaf. The bombings were widely condemned by neighboring and distant countries, local and foreign organizations all issuing condemnations and condolences to the victims of the cathedral attack.

Background[edit]

The bombings took place a week after the first part of an autonomous plebiscite held on January 21 for the creation of Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BAR). This region will include all of Sulu Province, including the capital city of Jolo. Jolo is known to be a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf group (ASG), an affiliate of the Islamic State terror organization, comprising activists from various clans or family-based factions operating under different commanders in the Sulu Archipelago: the group lacks a central command.[8][9] Sulu was the only province to vote against the Plebiscite, by a margin of 163,526 (54.3%) to 137,630 (45.7%).[10] Despite the results, Sulu Province would still be included in the BAR due to the high majority from other areas.[10]

The proposed Bangsamoro government plans to conduct crackdowns on firearms and local private armies and decommission their weapons once the new autonomous region is established.[11] The Philippine National Police (PNP) believes the attacks were carried out by ASG members in revenge for the deaths of their relatives during the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) military operations against their group. the police further said that the Sulu region has been receiving threats coming from this group.[9] Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, said poverty was also a contributing factor to the bombings as part of the long-time violence in the Mindanao region.[12]

The Abu Sayaf Group, or ASG, are known active kidnappers targeting foreigners in the waters of Sulu and Celebes Sea. Abdullah Sandakan, a former Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) militant based in the eastern Malaysian state of Sabah in Borneo island, names the ASG as "using ransom money that had earlier been paid to the ASG for the release of an Indonesian hostage in their recent kidnapping as a fund for the bombings plot".[13] Citing an unnamed Mindanao-based source, it was alleged a "huge sum" was paid by the Malaysian owner of the captive's fishing boat to secure the safe release of two Indonesian fishing boat workers that had been held hostage by the ASG (one had escaped his captors) abducted off Gaya Island off Semporna. Abdullah further alleged part of the ransom money was used by the ASG to pay villagers to shelter the bombing perpetrators.[13][14]

Attacks[edit]

The Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Western Mindanao Command (AFP WestMinCom) released closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage of the bombing with the following timeline:

Timeline of the bombings (January 27):

  • 8:26 – People are shown going about Sunday errands.[1]
  • 8:28 – First improvised explosive device (IED) exploded inside the cathedral.[1]
  • 8:30 – From a different angle, people are seen walking towards the cathedral and running away as a second explosion rips through the Cathedral's parking area as troops from the 35th Infantry Battalion responded.[1][15]
All times are UTC (UTC+8).

WestMinCom stated that the second IED was placed inside the utility box of a motorcycle parked outside the cathedral.[16] Wounded individuals were immediately brought to the Integrated Provincial Health Office and Sulu Sanitarium for medical treatment.[17]

According to the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), the perpetrators used a strategy similar to the 2002 Bali bombings to inflict additional casualties among first responders.[2] The explosive devices were estimated to weigh not less than two kilograms; with a mobile phone suspected to have been used as a triggering device (recovered near the site). Based on a post-explosion investigation as confirmed by DILG, the explosive devices used were ammonium nitrate pipe bombs.[2]

Perpetrators and suspects' identities[edit]

The Islamic State (IS) took responsibility for the bombings, which they said were committed by "two knights of martyrdom" against a "crusader temple".[18] Philippine military and peace advocates blamed the ASG's Ajang-Ajang faction, citing evidence from military intelligence operatives stating that they had intercepted ASG plans to bomb other parts of downtown Jolo months before.[4][6][19] Kamah, a brother of a slain ASG leader, has been tagged as the prime suspect in the bombings.[20] A sub-leader of the ASG named Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan has been named another prime suspect in connection with the bombings plot since their faction has connections to IS.[21]

On February 1, Philippine Interior Secretary Eduardo Año stated that two Indonesian suicide bombers were involved in the attacks, and were aided by local Abu Sayyaf who acted as guides.[22] The bombers were mistaken for Malaysians; one of them, identified by nom de guerre as Abu Huda,[23][24] had been living in Sulu province for some time.[22] The second bomber was alleged to be Huda's wife, arrived in the province a few days prior to the bombings.[22] The woman is believed to have been the first bomber inside the cathedral, while her husband carried out the second blast at the entrance.[25] PNP chief Oscar Albayalde further said that the Indonesian bombers sailed southwest to Jolo from Lampinigan Island of Basilan Province on January 24 and stayed there for a few days, but it could not be ascertained whether the two went to the island straight from Indonesia or had been around Mindanao island far longer.[24]

On February 4, the main suspect Kamah together with his four accomplices finally surrendered to the authorities following heavy military operations.[24][26] The four other accomplices were identified as Albaji Kisae Gadjali (alias Awag), Rajan Bakil Gadjali (alias Radjan), Kaisar Bakil Gadjali (alias Isal) and Salit Alih (alias Papong).[27][28] The PNP have filed murder charges on 5 of the suspects and 14 other suspects who are still at large.[29]

With the arrest of the five suspects and three others including the two bombers dead, while several others remain at large, the suspect identification process is considered as complete by the Philippine Interior Secretary.[30] The charges against the prime suspect Kamah are denied, along with any involvement in the bombings, The prosecution holds that eyewitness accounts form an adequate basis for indictment, together with the other defendants.[30]

Investigation and government response[edit]

Further details[edit]

CCTV footage of the area depicts a person identified as Kamah, wearing a blue-green jacket and holding a mobile phone.[31] Kamah, the brother of deceased ASG leader Surakah Ingog, is seen wandering around the cathedral with several other suspects before the explosion.[32] Kamah is a known bomb maker for the ASG, according to investigation reports released by PNP chief Albayalde.[33] The Philippine Army had released the images of four suspects in connection with the attacks as captured by the CCTV footage.[34] The authorities including the country's President did not rule out the possibility that the explosion was the work of suicide bombers.[35][36] Nevertheless, based on statements to the military by two surviving victims, eyewitnesses saw a woman hiding a bomb inside her bag and left it in one of the pews inside the cathedral where the explosion happened afterwards. Both witnesses, however, could not fully describe the woman's physical features.[37]

On January 30, two of the suspects that were earlier identified through the CCTV footage surrendered to police to clear their names; one of them was the suspect identified as the brother of deceased ASG leader.[38] Another two followed suit, fearing the authorities would hunt them down, despite neither being identified by WestMinCom in the video that had been released.[39] These four have been cleared and released although their claims of innocence will still require verification from the PNP, who admit they made a mistake in identifying one of the men as Kamah.[40][41] The PNP also admitted there was a security lapse at the Cathedral despite previous threats for the past five years.[42] Several other witnesses recalled seeing a woman who they suspected of bringing a bomb, but the claims are deemed "not conclusive" as based on the initial findings of the local PNP Explosive and Ordnance Division (EOD) lab. The laboratory found the bomb did not touch ground when it exploded.[43]

Through the investigation on the Indonesian bombers arrival background, the PNP stated the couple boarded a tricycle to Caltex Tiam at 19:00 on the evening after their arrival in Jolo. At 19:30 they were supposedly met by suspects identified as Papong, Awag and Radjan and boarded Awag's jeepney.[28] The group then reached Usaw in Barangay Langhub to meet with several other suspects named Kamah, Barak, Makrim and Usman who joined them to Sitio Bastiong. In a forested area, the group is alleged to have planned the bombings together with ASG leader Sawadjaan. The Indonesian couple were sent by the ASG on January 26 to carry black trolley bags. They were escorted by Usman, Barak and nine other armed men to Barangay Latihto at 17:10.[28] Despite the claim by Philippine authorities for the involvement of Indonesian citizens in the bombings, an investigation team sent by Indonesia to the Philippines to investigate still could not confirm that an Indonesian couple were behind the attack.[44] The Indonesian embassy in Manila said they remained unclear on the veracity of Philippine Interior Secretary Año's statement on their nationals involvement in the attack as deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and the CCTV evidence are yet to be released to their side for verification. Philippine National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) also did not see the basis of Minister Año's statement.[45][46]

On February 20, the Philippine National Police Crime Laboratory test results showed that four leg bone specimens of two unidentified persons among the bombing victims belong to a male and female, which bolstered the involvement of a said couple as earlier claimed through eyewitness accounts.[47]

Authority's response and security force mobilization[edit]

President Rodrigo Duterte and other government officials inspect the cathedral in the aftermath of the bombings.
President Duterte pays his last respects to the victims of the bombings.

Shortly after the incident, Malacañang Palace issued a statement that no mercy will be given to the perpetrators.[48] Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo stressed that "We will pursue to the ends of the earth the ruthless perpetrators behind this dastardly crime until every killer is brought to justice and put behind bars. The law will give them no mercy".[48] The Palace also stated the bombings provided "more reason" to retain martial law in the south.[49] President Rodrigo Duterte expressed his outrage over the incidents and visited the site of the bombings the following day.[5][50][51] The Commission on Elections stated that, despite the bombings, it did not see the need to place Jolo under its control and defer the upcoming February 6 plebiscite.[52] The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) condemned the bombings in the "strongest terms" and has provided financial assistance to 36 of the over 100 survivors of the bomb attacks, with each victim receiving 20,000.[53][54] Mindanao Development Authority chairman Abul Khayr Alonto also called the incident a "dastardly act of insanity" which "should not be allowed to instill fear in our peace-loving populace".[55]

WestMinCom confirmed that President Duterte had issued an "all-out war directive" order against the terror groups,[56][57] with Jolo being put on total lockdown.[58][59] The Bureau of Immigration had also been put on heightened alert to prevent the entry of new foreign terror elements,[60] while the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board directed all public utility vehicles to implement stricter security; it also advised the public to report any suspicious activity in terminals and vehicles to authorities.[61] During the joint raid between the military and police in Barangay Latih of Patikul, Sulu, to arrest Kamah, the suspect managed to escape even as one of his companions was killed.[62]

Among items seized during the raid were a 45 calibre pistol, a sniper scope, two mobile phones and a motorcycle.[62] The military continues hunting for the suspect with attack helicopters deployed in the province,[63] followed by house-to-house searches.[23][64] Approximately 5,000 elite soldiers have been mobilized, with the military operations resulting in many families fleeing their homes.[65] The continuing military operations resulted in the arrest and deaths of many ASG-linked militants.[66]

Other reactions[edit]

Other militant groups[edit]

Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chairman Murad Ebrahim said: "The MILF leadership joined peace-loving individuals in strongly condemning the twin bombing of the Cathedral".[67] MILF peace panel chairman Mohagher Iqbal condemned the attacks perpetrated against innocent civilians, calling them "senseless violence".[68] He was followed by Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) chairman Yusop Jikiri, who stated that the bombings can "only be the responsibility of terrorist, anti-peace, uncivilized and misguided persons".[69] The MNLF under Emmanuel Fontanilla called upon the government to conduct peace talks with groups including ASG and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), even if they are terrorists.[70]

Religious community[edit]

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines released a statement expressing sympathy for the victims and their families, condemning the attacks as an act of terrorism.[71] The bishops called for Christians to join with Muslims and indigenous communities to advocate for peace against violent extremism.[71][72][73] Pope Francis denounced the bombings, reiterating "My strongest condemnation for this episode of violence that once again strikes this Christian community. I raise my prayers for the dead and wounded. May the Lord, prince of peace, convert the hearts of the violent and give the inhabitants of that region a peaceful coexistence".[74] The World Council of Churches (WCC) expressed profound sorrow and said "In the face of this brutality, the human family, all people of faith and of good will, must stand together to recommit to respecting and caring for one another, to protecting one another, and to preventing such violence".[75] The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Davao has called on every churchgoer to refrain from bringing backpacks and boxes inside churches and chapels due to the threat of violence prevailing in the region of Mindanao in the wake of the bombings.[76]

Organization of the Imam Council of the Philippines (OICP) also condemned the attack, due to its "barbaric nature which is forbidden in Islam", adding that such barbaric acts "not only destroy the living of peace, but demolishes the tranquility of a sound society".[67] Another Islamic-sect, the Ahlul Bait, said "such a barbarous act must be condemned in the strongest terms".[67]

Non-governmental organizations[edit]

Local human rights group Karapatan also condemned the attacks but reminded the government that the incidents should not be used as an excuse to violate human rights further, especially towards government critics.[77] The Makabayan bloc feared that the incident might be used to extend the declaration of martial law to the whole country.[78]

International response[edit]

Various countries issued statements condemning the attacks and offering condolences to the affected victims,[note 1] as well as international organizations including the Asian Development Bank,[110] Association of Southeast Asian Nations,[111] European Union,[112] Organisation of Islamic Cooperation,[113] United Nations,[114] and World Bank.[115][116][117] UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office raised a travel warning for Western and Central Mindanao as well as the Sulu Archipelago following the incidents.[118] The bombings indirectly created negative impacts towards the barter trade between Malaysia and the Philippines with concerns raised from Filipino barter traders over their safety.[119][120]

Neighboring Royal Malaysia Police (RMP) stepped up security in their Sabah's state to prevent foreign terror groups transiting into their east coast major towns like Sandakan and Tawau before proceeding to the southern Philippine islands.[121] Malaysian Deputy Home Minister Azis Jamman instructed all of Malaysian enforcement agencies: the Police, Malaysian Armed Forces, Civil Defence Department and Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM) to increase the border security since they did not want the repetition of 1972, where many southern Filipino refugees fled to Sabah as a result of the civil war, considering the many social problems associated with the refugees still being reported.[122]

The Indonesian Consulate in Sabah issued a statement of no knowledge of any ransom paid by any parties for the release of any citizens from ASG abductors in recent kidnappings, in response to claims made by former JI member that ransom money was used in part of the bombings, adding that the Government of Indonesia did not even communicate nor negotiate with the kidnappers for their release.[123] Earlier in January 16, the Director of the Indonesian Citizens Protection of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Indonesia Muhammad Iqbal also rejected any claim about the use of ransom money, saying the hostages were released through the collaboration of an "inside network" between their government and Indonesian "assets" in the southern Philippines.[124]

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi condemned the bombing and sent condolences, and clarified their stance that the Indonesian embassy in Manila and their Consulate General in Davao were still attempting to get definitive information from various parties consequent to Minister Año's claim of Indonesian citizens' involvement.[125] Director of National Agency for Combating Terrorism (BNPT) Irfan Idris stated as of February 3, formal verifications of Indonesian involvement had not been received by Indonesian Head of Police Public Information Section Senior Commander Syahar Diantono nor by Co-ordinating Minister of Interior Minister Wiranto.[126] Indonesian anti-terrorism Detachment 88 team with Indonesian State Intelligence Agency (BIN), BNPT and representatives of the Indonesian Foreign Affairs Ministry had also been flown to Jolo to assist in the identification of the suicide bombers.[127]

On January 30, Hungary offered Ft 30 million (₱1.89 million)[128] as emergency assistance to the victims of the bombings through the Hungary Helps Program.[90] China via its Manila Embassy has pledged a total of RMB5 million (₱38.8 million) for those affected in the bombings.[129] China, India, Russia and the United States have also expressed their commitment to help the Philippines in their fight against terrorism in their country.[86][100][108][130]

Related incidents[edit]

A few days after the cathedral bombings, following a televised statement by President Duterte that "the attacks may have involved a suicide bomber", a grenade was thrown into a mosque in the village of Barangay Talon-Talon, southeast of Zamboanga City. This resulted in the death of two civilians and the wounding of three others.[131][132] The mayor of the city ordered the military and police authorities to conduct a thorough investigation on the incident which they fear was "a consequence of a tension between Muslims and Christians" as a result of the cathedral bombings.[132]

Notes[edit]

References[edit]

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  23. ^ a b "Philippine troops battle Muslim militants after church blast". Associated Press. Taiwan News. February 3, 2019. Retrieved February 4, 2019. The Indonesian man reportedly used the nom de guerre Abu Huda and Philippine authorities said they would coordinate with their Indonesian counterparts to try to validate the identities of the two.
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  33. ^ Raffy Santos (January 28, 2019). "Abu leader's brother among suspects in Jolo church blast". ABS-CBN News. Retrieved January 28, 2019.
  34. ^ "Army releases pictures of teen suspects in Jolo bombing". Philippine Daily Inquirer. January 29, 2019. Retrieved January 29, 2019.
  35. ^ Vann Marlo M. Villegas; Arjay L. Balinbin; Vince Angelo C. Ferreras (January 29, 2019). "Suicide bombing angle seen in Jolo blast". Reuters. Business World Online. Retrieved January 29, 2019.
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  44. ^ Gina Goh (February 15, 2019). "No evidence Indonesians Involved in Jolo Church Bombings". International Christian Concern. persecution.org. Retrieved February 16, 2019. Last week, an investigation team sent by Indonesia to Manila to investigate the twin bombings that killed 23 people at a Jolo cathedral could not confirm Philippine claims that an Indonesian couple were behind the attack. A senior counter-terror source in Jakarta told BenarNews that there were no DNA profile of the couple, no finger prints according to the post-mortem done on body parts found at the crime scene. Since returning to Jakarta this week, the Indonesian source told BenarNews that the team of counter-terror investigators has not yet received concrete evidence from Philippine authorities on the involvement of these two Indonesian individuals.
  45. ^ Yashinta Difa Pramudyani; Sri Haryati (February 5, 2019). "Evidence on Indonesians' involvement in Jolo bombing unreleased by PNP". Antara. Retrieved February 16, 2019. ...According to the Indonesian Embassy in Manila and Indonesian Consulate General in Davao, the Philippines' National Intelligence Cooperation Agency (NICA) did not see the basis of Minister Ano`s statement on Indonesians' involvement in the attack. "When contacted by the Indonesian Embassy in Manila, the NICA has informally expressed readiness to conduct joint investigation with the Indonesian government," Indonesian Ambassador to the Philippines Sinyo Harry Sarundajang noted. According to the Indonesian Embassy`s record, it was not the first time that the Philippines authority had conveyed such baseless information on the involvement of Indonesians in bomb attacks in the country. Similar claims were made in two earlier bombings in Lamitan City of Basilan Province on July 31, 2018, and in Cotabato City on New Year`s Eve. "However, the investigation showed there were no Indonesians involved in the two bombings as stated by the officials and media reports," Sarundajang remarked. The embassy will seek clarification with the Philippine Secretary of Interior and Local Government. The government will also sent a diplomatic note to seek clarification from the Philippines and to convey objection over the absence of notification regarding the allegation of Indonesians' involvement in the Jolo bomb attack.
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  126. ^ Dian Erika Nugraheny; Ichsan Emrald Alamsyah (February 3, 2019). Alamsyah, Ichsan Emrald (ed.). "BNPT Tunggu Informasi Resmi Filipina Soal Pelaku Bom di Jolo" [BNPT is Waiting for Official Philippine Information About Bombers in Jolo]. Republika Online (in Indonesian). Republika. Retrieved February 16, 2019. In her official statement, Foreign Minister Retno also stated that the Indonesian Embassy in Manila and the Indonesian Consulate General in Davao were also trying to get confirmation from the news. This is part of the government's efforts to communicate with various parties in the Philippines to obtain confirmation.. "Today I will continue to communicate with the Philippine authorities to confirm it," she said again. However, said the Foreign Minister, the latest information received from the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) military command, the identity and citizenship of the perpetrators of the bombing in Jolo has not been identified to date. This means that until now the information that mentions the perpetrators is still an alleged Indonesian citizen. "If it's true Indonesian citizens, that's what we will make sure of," said Foreign Minister Retno. Head of Police Public Information Section Sr. Comr. Pol. Syahar Diantono said that the PNP had not been able to ascertain the identity of the perpetrators of the suicide bombing. The police said he was still waiting for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which is currently trying to get official information about the case.
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