By Martin Sadongdong
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) disclosed on Saturday that it is validating reports about the supposed entry of two Sri Lankan suicide bombers in the Philippines.
International media organization The Strait Times reported on Friday that two Sri Lankan terrorists managed to slip into the country “to train local militants on making bombs and attacking churches and other soft targets” in Luzon.
The suspects, Mark Kevin Samhoon and Victoria Sophia Sto. Domingo, were reportedly identified through a watchlist issued by the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA). They reportedly have kin in the Philippines.
“We have to validate that report with other agencies of government. The information immediately available are reports coming from [the] media,” said Brigadier General Edgard Arevalo, AFP spokesperson.
Arevalo said that they already have “some information” about the matter but he insisted they have to check them with other concerned government agencies.
According to a separate report, Samhoon and Sto. Domingo were already in contact with a faction of local militants in Luzon to allegedly carry out suicide bombing missions.
Sto. Domingo allegedly arrived in the country in November 2018 while Samhoon followed in June of this year, according to reports.
Citing security expert Rommel Banlaoi, the Strait Times reported that Sto. Domingo was involved in the plotting of a bomb attack at the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral in Jolo, Sulu in January, claiming the lives of 23 people and wounding over 10 others.
An Indonesian couple was later verified to be behind the said attack, according to the Indonesian police and the AFP.
Connected to leaked memo?
A militant group called Suyuful Khilafa Fi Luzon, which was allegedly formed by remnants of the radical Rajah Sulaiman Islamic Movement (RSIM), is said to be the group that will fulfill the missions through the aid of Samhoon and Sto. Domingo.
This development came several days after Arevalo denied that there is a planned terror attack in northern Luzon when an alert memo issued to the intelligence units of the Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) was leaked in social media.
The alert memo, issued on August 2, ordered intelligence units to conduct a “heightened monitoring” after the Nolcom received information that a “Crusader City” with business centers and “Crusader churches” in northern Luzon are “being targeted for attack.”
According to the memo, a Crusader City is a term used by the Islamic State (IS) in describing target areas to fuel what they called “Bandar Crusade” or a supposed “war between Muslims and Christians.” Meanwhile, a Crusader church is the IS’ “generic term for all historic Catholic Churches.”
However, Arevalo clarified that the alert memo was only issued to verify the veracity of the intelligence information, which was later found out to be “negative.” This was backed by Nolcom commander, Lieutenant General Ramiro Manuel Ray.
“We advised our intelligence units to confirm the report but there’s no truth to it. It’s only raw information,” Ray said on August 5.
In a speech in Malacanang on the night of August 5, President Duterte said that he has been praying to God to spare the country from the threat of Islamic State.
“Talagang lumuluhod ako sa Diyos na (I am really asking God) to spare us the kind of brutality and cruelty in our country because it will really be bloody. Bloody as it can ever be,” he was quoted as saying.
Whether or not there is truth to the supposed entry of the two Sri Lankan suicide bombers in the Philippines, Arevalo called on the public to be vigilant and alert.
“We urge the public to remain calm and continue their routine. But they should remain vigilant and alert. Report their unusual observations to the AFP and PNP [Philippine National Police],” he said.