Suspect identified in Philippine Christmas attack

President Benigno Aquino said on Monday that investigators had identified a suspect and a possible “terror plot” in the Christmas day bombing of a church in the southern Philippines.

Although the attack on the island of Jolo only wounded six people, Aquino said that the fact that it took place during a Christmas Mass, in a church within a police camp, had made the situation more urgent.

“There is a suspect that has been named. The modus operandi … is similar to various other incidents and an [intelligence] report of a new terror campaign especially in that part of the country,” Aquino told reporters.

Aquino declined to give further details, saying more facts were being gathered.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack but police say they suspect the Abu Sayyaf, a Muslim extremist group that has long been active on Jolo.

A group of self-styled Islamic militants founded in the 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network, the Abu Sayyaf have long used Jolo as a base, for kidnappings and bombings that often target Christians.

The group is believed to be behind the worst militant attacks in the Philippines, including the bombing of a passenger ferry in Manila Bay that killed more than 100 people in 2004.

United States forces have been deployed in the southern Philippines since 2002 to train local troops in hunting down the Abu Sayyaf.

A roadside bomb believed planted by the Abu Sayyaf killed two US soldiers on Jolo in September last year. — Sapa-AFP

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