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Philippines suspects first suicide bombing by a local: army

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    Agence France-Presse

Manila   /   Tue, July 2, 2019   /   03:00 pm
Philippines suspects first suicide bombing by a local: army Philippine soldiers escort a hearse during the funeral procession of a victim killed in the January 27 cathedral bombing in Jolo, Sulu province on the southern island of Mindanao, on January 30, 2019. Investigators probing the Catholic cathedral bombing that killed 21 people in the Philippines' restive south said January 29 a group tied to notorious Islamists Abu Sayyaf is the prime suspect. (AFP/Nickee Butlangan)

A Filipino militant is suspected of carrying out an apparent suicide bombing last week in the southern Philippines, an army general said Tuesday, a grim first for the insurgency-plagued nation.

Philippine targets have been struck in the past in rare instances of suicide attacks, but this would be first believed to have been carried out by a Filipino.

The bombing Friday of a military base on the southern island of Jolo killed at least five people and bore the hallmarks of a suicide attack, authorities said.

Major General Cirilito Sobejana told AFP the suspected bomber's remains were identified by his mother and a sibling, but DNA testing was needed to confirm the preliminary identification.

Sobejana said investigators can't entirely rule out the possibility the bomb was remotely detonated and the 23-year-old suspect, who allegedly has ties to jihadist group Abu Sayyaf, was merely carrying it.

"The probability that it was a suicide bombing is very high, but we also have to consider those possibilities," he added.

If confirmed, the bomber would be the first known local suicide attacker in a nation where security officials had long said the tactic goes against local culture. 

Philippine defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Monday the attack was "obviously a suicide bombing", describing it as an important development in the nation's restive south.

Insurgent groups have killed tens of thousands in their decades-long fight for a separate Muslim homeland in the Catholic-majority nation. 

The defense chief said Friday's blast was the third suicide attack on the Philippines, following a July 2018 van bomb in southern Basilan island, and explosions during Sunday mass in January at a Catholic cathedral in Jolo.

All three attacks were claimed by the Islamic State group, which takes credit for the violence carried out by local affiliates such as kidnap-for-ransom group Abu Sayyaf.

Authorities have blamed foreign attackers for the two previous blasts which killed more than 30 people. 

Sobejana added the suspect was a member of the Abu Sayyaf faction led by Hajan Sawadjaan, who allegedly plotted the attack on the Jolo cathedral in January. 

Abu Sayyaf has been blamed for some of the worst terror attacks in Philippine history, including frequent kidnappings of foreigners.

Members of the group have pledged allegiance to IS, including those who participated in the 2017 siege of the southern city of Marawi. 

Analysts have said suicide attacks could be taking root in the Philippines, driven by IS influence. 

"It is an escalation, but it's also a sign of increased radicalization," said Zachary Abuza, Southeast Asian security expert at the National War College in Washington.

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