MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Abu Sayyaf group was behind the deadly van explosion in Lamitan City, Basilan, that killed 10, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said on Tuesday, July 31.
In a Camp Aguinaldo press briefing, AFP Spokesperson Edgard Arevalo said Abu Sayyaf Basilan commander Furuji Indama had a hand in the blast.
Indama, Arevalo said, is a "hardline member" of the Abu Sayyaf, refusing to surrender despite intensified community relations efforts of the AFP.
In a phone interview with Rappler, Western Mindanao Command chief Lieutenant General Arnel dela Vega said Indama's group may be "trying to project that they are a force to be reckoned with" as they are "losing ground" in the province.
Was it a suicide bombing? Arevalo clarified that the AFP cannot yet confirm reports of the explosion being a case of a suicide bombing, or even a lone wolf attack.
The spokesperson confirmed that the van was indeed driven by one unidentified person seen by one witness.
However, both the driver and the AFP's witness died in the blast.
Arevalo said the explosion could also have been triggered remotely by another Abu Sayyaf member.
AFP had knowledge of bombing plan: According to Arevalo, the AFP was able to receive intelligence reports that the van would pass by Lamitan City and would deploy the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) it carried across Basilan province.
Arevalo said they could not ascertain how many bombs were packed in the van, but noted that the explosion had a radius of 50 meters.
Armed Forces chief General Carlito Galvez Jr commended soldiers at the scene as “they have foiled an attempt to bring in a vehicle loaded with IEDs to downtown Lamitan City – at the cost of their own lives.”
“These terrorists will not succeed given the strong collaboration between the military and the local government that draws strength from the active participation of Governor Mujiv Hataman and other municipal mayors not only in Basilan but in the entire Western MIndanao,” he added.
The Philippine National Police urged the people of Basilan “to be alert and vigilant against any attempt to sow violence and disrupt our normal productive activities.” – with a report from Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler.com