MANILA – Criminal charges have been filed against 43 Muslim militants from two armed groups linked to the Islamic State group for two bomb attacks in the southern Philippines, including a suspected suicide bombing that killed 11 people, police said Monday.
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 an 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 targeted 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 Islamic State 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 Aug. 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 Muslim separatist rebellions in the largely Roman Catholic nation, remains under martial law, which President Rodrigo Duterte declared last year to deal with a five-month siege of southern Marawi city by Islamic State 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 Islamic State group was gaining a foothold in Southeast Asia amid battle defeats in Syria and Iraq.
Extremist factions of the Abu Sayyaf and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters have aligned themselves with the Islamic State group. Small but violent, the two groups oppose a Muslim autonomy deal Duterte signed with the largest Muslim rebel group in the country, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which has dropped secessionism for broader autonomy for minority Muslims in the south.