ZAMBOANGA CITY – Barely two weeks after a suicide bombing by a foreign ISIS soldier in southern Philippines, Filipino Defense chief Delfin Lorenzana said the attack was believed carried out by a Moroccan militant.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the July 31 suicide attack in Lamitan City in the province of Basilan – just several nautical miles south of Zamboanga City – that left over a dozen casualties.
In a post on its Amaq News Agency, the Islamic State said a Moroccan man carried out the daring assault against Filipino soldiers and identified the executor of the suicide bombing as Abu Katheer al Maghribi. “A martyrdom attack leads to 15 Filipino soldiers being killed in the city of Lamitan on the island of Basilan in the southern Philippines,” it said.
Philippine authorities said 11 people were killed when a car bomb exploded at a security checkpoint after government militias stopped the suspicious vehicle in Bulanting village, about 2 kilometers away from downtown Lamitan.
The Philippine military tried to downplay the explosion, saying, there was no proof that it was a suicide attack despite several witnesses reports claiming witnesses had seen the bomber before he detonated his van. Lamitan Vice Mayor Roderick Furigay, quoting a report by witnesses, also said that the driver appeared to be a foreigner and could not speak the local dialect when stopped by soldiers at the army checkpoint.
The powerful explosion obliterated the vehicle and left a huge crater and among those killed were a woman and a child; and the militia commander whose unit is under the supervision of the Philippine Army. Five soldiers and several civilians were also wounded in the explosion.
Reports said the bomber came from a nearby town and heading to downtown Lamitan when his vehicle was stopped at the checkpoint.
“We’ll did he die, we don’t know. Maybe he is that guy. Meron pang agam-agam kung siya talaga ‘yun e. Pero sa akin mukhang qualifications point that he is the guy,” CNN Philippine quoted Lorenzana as saying Friday.
Lorenzana said the bomber blew up his van loaded with explosives at the checkpoint to evade capture, adding, the militant was targeting a gathering of students in Lamitan. “Wala na siyang magawa eh, mahuhuli na siya eh. So sabi niya, suicide na lang siya, but he would not, he was not, that was not the intention,” he said.
Governor Mujiv Hataman, of the Muslim autonomous region, strongly condemned the violence. He said a total of 11 people were killed in the blast, but one of the wounded had recently died in the hospital, raising the number of dead to 12.
“We condemn this brazen act of violence against our people, and trust that we will exert every effort to help the families affected by this incident and we will strengthen efforts to secure our region without compromising the rights of the Bangsamoro.”
“We mourn the loss of lives in this senseless attack to our safety, and we continue to thank those who have devoted and continue to devote their lives to securing peace in the Bangsamoro. The commitment to rights and safety of our people that we share with them defines our collective efforts, and we continue to stand and work with them as we seek justice for those who have lost their lives to conflict and violence,” he said.
Hataman also downplayed claims by the Islamic State, saying, it was propaganda by the terror group. “Mahilig naman mag-claim mga yan. Mga yan mahilig din mag-propaganda. Hindi naman suicide yun kasi nasita,” he told the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.
The province is also a known stronghold of the militant group Abu Sayyaf whose leaders have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. Several foreign fighters had been killed in clashes with soldiers in Basilan in recent years.
The Philippine military earlier urged the public to be on alert and stay vigilant at all times following attempts by pro-ISIS militants to bomb civilian targets in the restive southern region.
President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly called on militants to talk peace and also promised amnesty and financial aid if they surrender to the government. (Mindanao Examiner)
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