The recent blasts in Quiapo, Manila were most likely carried out by a new Luzon-based faction of extremists as part of a supposed requirement to be officially accepted as members to the Islamic State (IS), according to The Manila Times sources in the intelligence community and several Muslim clerics.
The sources said local IS-linked groups such as the IS Ranao, also known as the Maute Group in Lanao del Sur; the Sarangani-based Ansar al-Khilafah in the Philippines; the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Maguindanao and Cotabato; the Rajah Solaiman Movement and the Harakatul Islamiyah or Abu Sayyaf Group and other small groups in Western Mindanao all had to prove themselves to the IS, which is seeking to establish a global Islamic caliphate.
Intelligence authorities became aware of the looming formation since last year of the “Al-Luzoni (the Luzonians)” faction, which also covers the Visayas, with members led by Yusuf Macoto Al-Luzoni and a few Muslim converts.
Yusuf’s group, which runs a Tagalog version of IS propaganda sites called “Perlas ng mga Mujahideen [Pearl of the Mujahideen],” was the primary suspect in the failed bombing of the US embassy on November 28, 2016 that was supposedly the “test mission” for the group.
The failed mission was carried out with the support of some members of the most significant IS founders in the country – the Ghuraba – highly trained intelligence operatives of the group that was recently identified by the Philippine National Police (PNP) following the arrests of alleged suspects in the foiled attack.
At least five people have been arrested since December last year in relation to the US embassy bombing attempt, but the prime suspects remain at large.
The hardcore escaped to Mindanao and detonated a homemade bomb along their way in Hilongos, Leyte on December 28, 2016. The blast left 34 people wounded.
Authorities tagged the suspects as members of the Maute Group from Butig, Lanao del Sur, led by the Maute brothers Omar and Abdullah, who were initially members of the Ghuraba of the Khilafah Islamiyah Movement (KIM).
The KIM, which means Islamic caliphate movement, serves as an umbrella organization of all IS-linked groups in the country being led by Humam Abdulnajid, who is believed to have organized the group in 2006 in a Catholic university in Cagayan de Oro City.
Abdulnajid, with other Ghuraba members, appeared in the group’s video released online last week showing major operations in the Lanao del Sur, including the battles in Butig and the rescue of their members from the provincial jail last year.
A source, a close relative of some members of the Ghuraba, said the Quiapo blasts were “not part of their plan.” At least two were killed and many others were wounded in the daring attack.
But the source said the group has also downplayed the issue and refused to comment on whether the faction of Yusuf carried out the Quiapo bombings, after IS itself claimed responsibility for the attack.
“Five Shiite dead and six others were wounded when soldiers of the Islamic State detonated an explosive device in Philippine central city of Manila,” the Amaq news agency, an IS propaganda arm, reported.
The source said he had taken his relatives to task for the bombings because of “undesirable divisions and conflicts” generated between Islamic sects in the country.
The police investigation showed that the target belonged to a Shiite group, the Maranao cleric Nasser Abinal, a government official involved in over a decade of religious debates against Sunni preachers in Quiapo.
Video footages of the debates were uploaded to Youtube and Facebook.
Investigators, however, were mum on the issue, saying only that the attacks stemmed from “personal grudge” and were not related to terrorism, and that Abinal had received death threats from unknown quarters.
The jihadists two years ago burned a Shiite mosque in Marawi City, but cooler heads among Sunni clerics, including the source, intervened, resulting in the reconstruction of the structure.