MANILA – Five suspected Abu Sayyaf militants accused of their involvement in an attack at a cathedral in Jolo in the southern Philippines have surrendered before the authorities, police said Monday.
The Jan. 27 attack left at least 23 people dead and some hundred injured, according to the latest toll.
Police said the attackers were led by a local militant identified as Kammah Pae, who has also surrendered but has denied any involvement in the bombing targeting churchgoers at a Sunday mass gathering.
“I am pleased to announce the surrender over the weekend of Kammah Pae and four other persons, who performed individual roles in that incident,” Philippine National Police Chief Oscar Albayalde told reporters in Manila.
Kammah Pae, alias “Kamah,” is the leader of Ajang Ajang which operates in Jolo under Abu Sayyaf, a militant group known to have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State outfit.
Albayalde said Kamah has not yet admitted his role in the attack. He is believed to be the brother of Surakah Ingog, an Abu Sayyaf leader who died in combat in 2018.
However, his companions have indicated that he was the person accompanying the suicide attackers who blew themselves up at the cathedral.
The other four suspects have been identified as Albaji Kisae Gadjali, Rajan Bakil Gadjali, Kaisar Bakil Gadjali and Salir Alih.
Albayalde said the five people were compelled to surrender as a result of a large scale operation launched by the security forces in the area.
The Philippine army launched its offensive against Abu Sayyaf two days after the bombing with attacks from land, sea and air in the remote city of Patikul, in Sulu province, where members of the extremist group are believed to be hiding.
On Friday, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año confirmed that the attack on the cathedral at Jolo, the capital of Sulu province, involved two Indonesian suicide attackers aided by Abu Sayyaf members.
The police chief said they recovered “assembled IED and IED components” from Kamah’s house.
The authorities on Monday filed charges before the provincial public prosecutor against the five suspects for multiple murders and attempt to murder, said Albayalde.
On Jan. 27, two Indonesian suicide bombers, a man and a woman, carried out twin blasts which exploded within one and a-half minutes of each other outside the cathedral. The death toll made it one of the deadliest attacks in the volatile region in recent years.
Albayalde said they believed the man and the woman were a couple, and the man arrived in the Philippines by boat a year ago, whereas the woman had arrived just a few days before the attack.
The authorities are also on the lookout for Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, who assumed leadership of Abu Sayyaf after the death of Isnilon Hapilon, considered emir of the Islamic State in Southeast Asia, in October 2017.
The police chief said Sawadjaan and 13 other suspects of the attack were yet to be nabbed, whereas another three were killed in military operations during the weekend.