The Philippine military said on Tuesday (Feb 23) it had arrested a sister and three daughters of a slain leader of the Islamist militant group Abu Sayyaf, among a group of nine women it said were plotting suicide bomb attacks, The Straits Times reports
Lieutenant-General Corleto Vinluan, who heads the Western Command of the Philippine Armed Forces, said the joint operation had been conducted by troops and police in the southern province of Sulu with search warrants in the early hours of Friday.
“This led to the apprehension of nine female potential suicide bombers who are related to some of the notorious leaders and members of the Abu Sayyaf Group,” said Vinluan.
The women were captured with bomb-making materials including non-electric blasting caps, nails, batteries, mobile phones, and a rough sketch of their plan, the military said.
The military said in a statement the women arrested included a sister and three daughters of Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, an Abu Sayyaf leader who died in July last year in a firefight with soldiers in Patikul, a town in Sulu. The authorities view Sawadjaan as the mastermind of a suicide bomb attack by an Indonesian couple on a church in Sulu in Jan 2019, which killed more than 20 people and wounded more than 100, including civilians and soldiers.
A few weeks after Sawadjaan’s death, two widows of Abu Sayyaf militants separately detonated bombs in suicide attacks that killed 14 people, including soldiers, and wounded 75 others in Jolo town in Sulu.
The military said then that the bombings, the worst extremist attacks in the country last year, may have been staged by the Abu Sayyaf to avenge the death of Sawadjaan, who was believed to have been designated by the Islamic State group as its leader in the southern Philippines.
Abu Sayyaf, which is based in Sulu, has carried out kidnappings, bomb attacks and piracy for decades. Since 2014, it has proclaimed allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group.
Philippine forces have arrested nine women who were related to Abu Sayyaf commanders and militants in the south and could have been “potential suicide bombers”. The women were captured Friday in raids on houses in three towns in the predominantly Muslim province of Sulu.
Troops also seized bomb parts, including batteries, detonating cords, suspected explosive powder and oil, an iron pipe and nails, along with a grenade, cellphones, backpacks and a sketch of a suspected targeted bombing area, the military said in a statement.
“We are always ready to welcome those who wish to return to the folds of the law but if you will refuse to do so, we will surely hunt you down and prevent you from inflicting havoc in the communities. May this serve as a clear message to the supporters and remaining members of the Abu Sayyaf,” said Major General William Gonzales, who heads government forces in Sulu.
The suspects would face criminal charges for illegal possession of explosives, military officials said, adding that intelligence and surveillance helped troops track down the suspects. It was not immediately possible to reach the arrested suspects to get their comments.
The United States and the Philippines have separately blacklisted the Abu Sayyaf, which has been considerably weakened by years of battle setbacks, military offensives and surrenders but remains a national security threat.