Government troops killed a member of the Ajang-Ajang wing of the Abu Sayyaf Group that was blamed for Sunday’s deadly bomb attack following a raid on its safe house in Patikul, Sulu Tuesday night.
READ: ‘Destroy ASG, Ajang-Ajang’
Col. Gerry Besana, spokesman for the Western Mindanao Command identified the slain militant as Ommal Usop, a member of the Ajang-Ajang group that the authorities hold responsible for the bombing of a Catholic Church in Jolo, Sulu that killed 21 people and wounded more than 100 others on Sunday.
The raid in Patikul came hours after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines to crush the Abu Sayyaf.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also said the military conducted airstrikes Tuesday on Abu Sayyaf positions in the towns of Patikul and Indanan in Sulu, in retaliation for Sunday’s church attack.
He could not say how many sorties were conducted or if the airstrikes continued on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, four people who were seen on CCTV footage leaving the cathedral that was bombed in Jolo surrendered to the police, saying they wanted to clear their names.
Alsimar Maohammad Albi, 24, resident of Bus-Bus, Jolo, Sulu and Julius Abdulzam Albi, 17 of Brgy Takut-Takut said they had gone to a pharmacy to buy medicine for Alsimar’s mother when the bombs went off.
Alsimar said he told Julius to stay away when the suspects who fled the scene appeared behind him.
Earlier, two others also came forward.
Alshaber J. Arbi, 18, a grade 11 student, and Gerry Isnajil, a high school teacher, also presented themselves to the police provincial office.
Security forces were still hunting for the bombers of the cathedral and said initially the attack was not a suicide bombing.
However, on Tuesday President Rodrigo Duterte contradicted them, saying one of the bombers had blown himself up outside the cathedral.
On Wednesday Lorenzana appeared to walk back the President’s comments, saying: “The final conclusion is not there yet. It’s still being investigated.”
The probe was zeroing in a group tied to the notorious Islamist kidnap-for-ransom group Abu Sayyaf, which has pledged allegiance to ISIS.
Besana said troops of the Philippine Marines Ready Fleet Sulu, the 35th Infantry Battalion, the 110th Infantry Brigade, and the police Special Action Force swooped down on the Ajang-Ajang lair in Sitio Kalimayahan Village in Brgy Latih at about 5:40 p.m. but found no occupants there, including Kamah, the main suspect in the church bombing.
As troops were clearing the site, however, Usop fired upon them, forcing them to return fire and kill him on the spot.
Troops recovered a .45 caliber pistol, five bullets, a sniper scope, two cell phones, and a motorcycle.
Besana said Kamah, the subject of a massive manhunt, is the logistic officer of the ASG.
Besana said the Ajang-Ajang belong to the Daulah Islamiya with five groups under Sawadjaan with 38 members and about 50 assorted high-powered firearms.
The Ajang-ajang is reportedly made up of mostly teenage bandits, who are said to be next generation members of the ASG.
The authorities have identified three of the suspects in the CCTV footage, including one alias Kamah, who supposedly wore the green jacket in the video and who is said to be a brother of Abu Sayyaf bomb maker Surakah Ingog.
Also on Wednesday, Sulu caretaker-representative and Puwersa ng Bayaning Atleta partylist Rep. Jericho Nograles on Wednesday urged the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police to conduct DNA testing on the two recovered heads from the blast site of the Jolo church bombing.
“Based on reports, the President and other officials have raised the possibility that suicide bombers carried out this appalling attack. It is entirely possible that these individuals are foreigners and DNA testing may be able to verify these reports,” Nograles said in a statement.
Nograles was designated as the caretaker-representative of the First District of Sulu since September 2016 after the death of Rep. Tupay Loong in July 2016.
Nograles said his office has been receiving information from various sources regarding the attacks. “The threats against the cathedral were present as early as five months ago. This is why the people of Sulu fully support martial law in Mindanao. I trust that the President and the Armed Forces will maximize the martial law powers to bring the perpetrators to justice,” he said.
Catholic Church leaders in Davao banned bags, backpacks, and boxes inside churches and chapels in a bid to prevent more bomb attacks.
D“Due to the current peace and order situation, please be informed that starting today, for all churchgoers, it is not allowed to bring with you bags, backpacks, knapsacks, boxes, cartons, and the like into the church,” Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles said.
“Only small purses and the like are allowed,” he added.
Valles said that the measure was taken upon the advice of the government’s security forces.
Also on Wednesday, Metro Manila police chief Guillermo Eleazar asked the public to stop circulating a fake message on social media, purportedly from an SM department store employee saying that the Abu Sayyaf had demanded $15 million from the company so that its malls would not be bombed.
SM Supermalls released an official statement saying that the message had been in circulation for the last three years and had been verified a hoax.
“This is a replay of a similar hoax meant to sow alarm and panic among the citizens in Metro Manila, and done by people who are clearly enemies of the state or by irresponsible pranksters,” Eleazar said. With PNA
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