MANILA – The Philippines army has killed three suspected militants who were planning a suicide attack in the country in retaliation to the death of top Islamic State leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi in a raid by United States forces, officials said on Wednesday.
The suspects were shot down on Tuesday in Sulu, an archipelago that has become a haven for foreign militants linked to the Islamic State, the army’s Western Mindanao Command head Lieutenant Colonel Cirilito Sobejana told EFE.
Sobejana said two of the three militants killed in a foiled suicide attempt were foreigners, and the act could have been in reprisal for the death of the Islamic State leader in Syria.
He said the army in Sulu had set up a check post after receiving inputs about a suicide attack planned in Jolo, the provincial capital of Sulu.
The three suspects were on board a motorbike when they saw the soldiers and began shooting at them.
The clash lasted about five minutes and ended with the deaths of the three militants – two Egyptians and a Filipino.
“The terrorists (...) were about to carry out their suicide bombing mission in Metro Jolo when they were neutralized by AFP (army) during a military operation to apprehend foreign terrorists in Sulu,” the army said in a statement.
The three alleged terrorists have been linked to the local militia Abu Sayyaf, which swore allegiance to the Islamic State in 2014 and is now the strongest extremist group in Southeast Asia, with a large presence in both Sulu and nearby Basilan Island, both located in the restive Muslim Mindanao region.
According to analysts, some 100 foreign terrorists have sought refuge in Muslim Mindanao region after fleeing the now destroyed self-proclaimed Islamic State caliphate in Syria and Iraq.
Abu Sayyaf is currently under the command of its leader, Hatib Sawadjaan, who is believed to have masterminded a twin bombing at a cathedral in Jolo in January, in which around 20 people were killed.
The arrival of foreign terrorists to the Philippines has resulted in the introduction of new forms of violence, such as those involving lone wolves and suicide bombings, otherwise an unusual modus operandi among local militant groups.
Since August last year, the Philippines has suffered four suicide bombings, all claimed by the Islamic State, and all but one perpetrated by foreigners in Sulu and Basilan.