By Valina Zahra
Jolo is the capital of Sulu Province, one of three island provinces in Southwestern Mindanao in the Philippines, the other two being Basilan and Tawi-Tawi. These three provinces are part of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), and the overwhelming majority of their population is of the Muslim faith. Jolo itself has been an entrepot since ancient times and it has a small but influential Christian minority.
Earlier this year, on 24 August 2020, Jolo suffered two terrorist bombing attacks, almost exactly one hour apart.
According to news reports, at 11:45 a.m. a bombed attached to a motorcycle parked beside a military truck in front of the Paradise Food Plaza, exploded killing six soldiers, six civilians and a policeman, and injuring 69 others.
A little more than an hour later, at 12:57 p.m., a woman attempted to enter the bombing site that the authorities in the meantime had cordoned off. When a soldier stopped her, she detonated a bomb that she carried on her person, killing herself and the soldier and wounding six police officers.
In that double attack, reports said, eight members of the security forces and six civilians were killed, while 27 military and police personnel and 48 civilians were wounded. The woman who brought the bomb-rigged motorcycle and the woman who detonated the bomb she carried also died instantly.
According to Philippine military authorities, one of the suicide bombers was identified as Nanah, the widow of Norman Lausca, said to be the country’s first suicide bomber. The other bomber was identified as Indah Nay, widow of Abu Sayyaf sub-leader (ISIS) Talha Jumsah, also known as Abu Talha. The names by which both suicide bombers were identified turned out to be aliases.
No stranger to terrorism
Jolo is no stranger to terrorist attacks. On 27 January 2019, as BBC reported, two bombs were exploded at the Roman Catholic cathedral in Jolo, killing 20 people. The first detonation took place inside the cathedral while Sunday mass was being celebrated. The second took place just outside, killing and wounding soldiers who had quickly responded. The Islamic State instantly claimed responsibility for that attack.
Military records show that the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), which has affiliated itself with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ISIS), carried out more than 20 terrorist attacks from the 1990s until 2020. Most of the attacks took place in Jolo, Basilian, Tawi-Tawi, the Zamboanga peninsula, and nearby islands where the Group maintains strongholds. It is widely surmised that foreign terrorist fighters undergo training in those strongholds.
Over the years, the ASG gained worldwide notoriety as it engaged in a series of kidnappings not only of Filipinos but foreigners as well, including a good number of Indonesians. Many of the kidnap victims were released upon payment of ransom by relatives or the concerned governments. Some kidnap victims who were not ransomed died a horrible death in the hands of the terrorists.
According to Philippine government sources, some 200 members of the ASG are in Sulu Province, while 130 are in Basilan, 90 are in Zamboanga City, 20 in Tawi-Tawi amd five in Marawi City. It is also bruited that some ASG field commanders are protected by local politicians who use ASG members as part of their private militias.
When will the carnage stop? The answer does not lie in the hands of the security authorities alone. The entire Philippine society—including the national government, the local government units, the community leaders, the civil society organizations and the people themselves—are called upon to wage a concerted effort to expose and bring the ASG terrorists to justice.
Moreover, ASEAN and the international community also have an obligation to help in this effort as they all have a stake in the eradication of terrorism in this part of the world and everywhere else. No one can say, “This is not my fight. I have nothing to do with this.” All are called upon to be vigilant and when the occasion calls for it, to take appropriate action.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Pinter Politik.