43 suspects in deadly Philippine bombings face criminal charges

MANILA, Philippines (AP) – Criminal complaints have been filed against 43 militants from two armed groups linked to the Islamic State (IS) group for two bomb attacks in the southern Philippines, including a suspected suicide bombing that killed 11 people, police said yesterday.

Murder complaints were filed against 18 suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf for a powerful blast on July 31 that killed 11 people and wounded several others in Lamitan city on Basilan island, said Director General Oscar Albayalde, the national police chief.

A foreign militant who drove the bomb-laden van died in the suspected suicide attack.

Among those facing charges is Abu Sayyaf Commander Furuji Indama, who Albayalde said ordered the bombing but remains at large along with nine other suspects.

Eight suspects, including a militant bomb expert, Julamin Arundoh, who police said rigged the van with plastic gallons containing the explosives, have been captured.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano said the foreign militant who drove the van targetted a public gathering of about 3,000 people in Lamitan city but his vehicle stalled and villagers whom he asked for help became suspicious when they saw unusual wires protruding from plastic gallons in the vehicle.

As army troops approached, the van blew up, killing the militant and 10 other people outside a paramilitary detachment and wounding several villagers.

The IS group claimed responsibility for the Lamitan bombing and identified the attacker as Moroccan. However, it cited a greatly inflated military death toll.

Albayalde said criminal complaints were also filed against 25 members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, who are blamed for an August 28 bombing that left three people dead as Isulan town in Sultan Kudarat province celebrated its annual founding festival.

Five days after the blast, another deadly bombing hit Isulan, prompting authorities to remove the town and provincial police chiefs and further strengthen already tight security in the volatile region.

“It’s not only a presence there, there should be police intervention that should be carried out like … searches and checkpoints,” Albayalde said in a news conference in Manila.

The southern Philippines, the scene of decades-long rebellions, remains under martial law, which President Rodrigo Duterte declared last year to deal with a five-month siege of southern Marawi city by IS group-linked militants.

The disastrous siege left more than 1,200 people dead, mostly militants, displaced hundreds of thousands of villagers and sparked fears that the IS group was gaining a foothold in Southeast Asia amid battle defeats in Syria and Iraq.