By Katharina Lestari and Joe Torres
Philippine and Indonesian authorities are looking to establish the identities of a couple believed responsible for the deadly blasts at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Mindanao on Jan. 27.
A police investigation pointed to a suicide bombing as the cause of the blasts that killed at least 23 people and injured about 100 others in the town of Jolo, in Sulu province.
“[The] bombers are an Indonesian couple. Identification is in progress but [it] may take time,” Philippine Interior Secretary, Eduardo Ano, said in Manila.
The Indonesian government, meanwhile, has sent a team composed of intelligence and counter-terrorism agents to assist Philippine authorities in verifying the identities of the suspects.
Ano earlier said a certain Abu Huda, who had been living in Sulu province, and his wife might have been behind the atrocity.
Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs, Wiranto, earlier questioned the Philippine claim that the perpetrators were Indonesian nationals.
“Never make any conclusion from a one-sided claim saying that Indonesians carried out a crime in another country,” Wiranto told reporters in Jakarta.
Ano’s claim sparked conflicting accounts over the alleged involvement of Indonesian citizens in the bombing.
Sidney Jones, director of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, told ucanews.com that “there is no strong evidence” suggesting Indonesian nationals were involved in the bombing. She said speculation should not be made accusing “terror networks that might not exist.”
Al Chaidar, a terrorism expert from the Malikussaleh University in Aceh province, did not dismiss the possible involvement of the militant Jamaah Ansharut Daulah in the bombing. He said about 200 members of the group went to the Philippines between 2014 and 2018.
“They thought it was easier for them to carry out jihad there because they couldn’t move freely in Indonesia due to diligence of security forces,” Chaida told ucanews.com.
Jamaah Ansharut Daulah has pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic State group, which issued a statement claiming responsibility for the Jolo attack.
Philippine intelligence officials have claimed that about 40 foreign terrorists including Indonesians, Malaysians, Pakistanis, Moroccans, Egyptians and Singaporeans are in the country.
The Jolo attack was the second reported case of suicide bombing in the Philippines. The first occurred in July last year when a Moroccan national blew himself up Basilan province, killing 11 people.