Captain Rex Payot, spokesperson of the Joint Task Force Sulu, said the soldiers were conducting a security operation to support local government officials who were on a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) response effort when the first explosion occurred at the town plaza on Selantes Street, Plaza Rizal in Barangay Walled City.
Maj. Gen. Corleto Vinluan, commander of the Western Mindanao Command (WESTMINCOM) said the identities of the fatalities have yet to be released as of this writing. Killed in the first explosion were five soldiers and four civilians. In the second explosion, one soldier was killed and the alleged female suicide bomber. Of the injured, 22 are civilians while 18 are soldiers.
Payot said an improvised explosive device planted on a motorcycle which was parked near a military truck suddenly went off. The truck was carrying soldiers from the 21st Infantry Battalion (21IB).
“We are conducting a COVID-19 support response together with the local officials. Suddenly, nagkaroon ng explosion sa isang motorcycle na nakapark malapit sa M35 truck ng sundalo natin,” he told Manila Bulletin in a phone call.
Lt. Col. Ronald Mateo, civil military operations officer of the 11th Infantry Division (11ID), said the second explosion occurred at 1 p.m. about 100 meters from the site of the first incident just as authorities were conducting a post-blast assessment.
“Ang kwento ng mga nakakita na sundalo is ‘yung bomba is nakalagay sa motorcycle and then pinark doon then umalis ‘yung driver,” Mateo said.
It was not immediately clear if the unidentified motorcycle driver was also the suicide bomber who detonated the IED-worn explosive.
Mateo said investigators are looking at the Abu Sayyaf Group as the possible perpetrators of the attack.
“Ang ASG talaga ang tinitignan kasi sila ang may kakayahan na mag-carry out ng ganoong klaseng pag-atake,” he said.
The motive behind the attack is yet to be determined although Mateo said among those being considered are the arrest of Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) sub-commander Anduljihad “Idang” Susukan last April 13.
He added that probers will also investigate whether the attack was connected to the suicide bombers being tracked by four Army intelligence operatives who were slain by nine cops in Jolo last June 29.
“Sa ngayon nag-lockdown na kami dito sa Jolo, then tuloy-tuloy ang security operations namin,” Mateo said.
Gen. Archie Francisco Gamboa, chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP), said “as of now, the number of victims are still undetermined while investigation is underway to identify the perpetrators.”
The figure was confirmed by the Western Mindanao Command head Maj. Gen. Corleto Vinluan, Jr. who added that at least 18 soldiers were also injured.
The site of the explosions was near Mt. Carmel Cathedral which was the site of a twin bombing in Jolo on January 27, 2019, killing 23 people and injuring over 100 others.
Five months later, at least eight people died while 22 others were injured in a twin bombing in a military camp in Indanan town, also in Sulu.