Indonesian couple identified as Philippine church suicide bombers

Philippines soldiers deployed to the area of the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Jolo, Sulu, southern Philippines. Twin explosions claimed by Daesh at the cathedral in Jan. 27 left more than 20 people killed and 102 others injured. (AP file photo)
Updated 24 July 2019

Indonesian couple identified as Philippine church suicide bombers

  • Information obtained from two captured militants helped to confirm bombers’ identities
  • 22 people were killed by the blasts at a Catholic church on Jolo island in the Philippines in January

JAKARTA: Police in Indonesia on Tuesday announced that the suicide bombers who killed 22 people in a Catholic church in the Philippines were a married couple thought to be from the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia. They were named as Rullie Rian Zeke and his wife, Ulfah Handayani Saleh.

It follows months of speculation after authorities in the Philippines said that they believed two Indonesians were responsible for the attack on Jolo Island in January.

Indonesian National Police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo said that officers were able to confirm the information that strongly suggested this through statements from two suspected militants: Novendri, who was arrested in Padang, West Sumatra, in July, and Yoga Febrianto, who was arrested in Malaysia last month.

He added that Indonesian anti-terrorism squad Densus 88 had worked with Filipino counterparts to try to identify the bombers using DNA tests but were hampered by a lack of other samples to compare with their remains.

“They entered the Philippines illegally, so their identities were not well recorded,” said Dedi. “There were strong indications that they were Indonesians because they spoke and behaved liked Indonesians. After we arrested Novendri and Yoga Febrianto...they revealed that the two suicide bombers in the Philippines were Indonesians.

“There are indications that the bombers were from Sulawesi but Densus 88 is probing further into their background and addresses, to compare with the DNA results we have.”

Police said Novendri is part of Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), a pro-Daesh Indonesian militant group that carried out a fatal bombing in central Jakarta in January 2016 and a series of bomb attacks in Surabaya, East Java in May 2018, including three on churches. With his arrest, police said they had foiled attacks targeting police in West Sumatra, which were planned for Aug. 17: Indonesia’s Independence Day.

They added that he received orders from Syaifullah, a suspected terrorist mastermind who is on the anti-terror squad’s hit list and is believed to be hiding in Afghanistan's Khorasan province.

Dedi said Syaifullah had received money transfers totaling more than US$28,000 from Western Union between March 2016 and September 2017 from countries including Trinidad and Tobago, the Maldives, Germany, Malaysia and Venezuela.

“These were the funds he received to move the JAD cells in Indonesia,” he added.

“Densus 88 is remapping former terror convicts, those who were deported and returned from Syria, and hunting down those on the hit list in cooperation with counterparts from the Philippines, Malaysia and Afghanistan. This is our preventive action to thwart JAD’s structured terror attacks.”


US opens first round of resurrected peace talks with Taliban

Updated 07 December 2019

US opens first round of resurrected peace talks with Taliban

  • The talks will initially focus on getting a Taliban promise to reduce violence
  • Permanent cease-fire would be the eventual goal, said a US statement

KABUL: US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad held on Saturday the first official talks with Afghanistan’s Taliban since President Donald Trump declared a near-certain peace deal with the insurgents dead in September.
The talks will initially focus on getting a Taliban promise to reduce violence, with a permanent cease-fire being the eventual goal, said a US statement. Khalilzad is also trying to lay the groundwork for negotiations between Afghans on both sides of the protracted conflict.
The meetings being held in the Middle eastern State of Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a political office, follow several days of talks in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, where Khalilzad met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
The Taliban have so far refused direct talks with Ghani calling him a US puppet.
Ghani leads the Afghan government with Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah in a power-sharing agreement brokered by the United States after the presidential elections in 2014 were so deeply mired in corruption that a clear winner could not be determined.
To head off a conflict Washington stepped in and forced the two leading candidates __ Ghani and Abdullah __ to share power in a so-called Unity Government that has been largely paralyzed because of the relentless bickering between the two leaders.
The Afghan government is now embroiled in a fresh elections standoff. Presidential polls on Sept. 28 again ended in accusations of misconduct and corruption, with no results yet announced.
Repeat leading contender Abdullah has challenged the recounting of several hundred thousand ballots, accusing his opponent Ghani of trying to manipulate the tally.
Meanwhile, Khalilzad’s return to his peace mission followed Trump’s surprise Thanksgiving Day visit to Afghanistan in which he said talks with the Taliban were back on.
While Khalilzad is talking to the Taliban about reducing violence, the US military in its daily report said overnight on Saturday US airstrikes killed 37 Taliban and operations by the Afghan National Security Forces killed another 22 of the militants.
The insurgents have continued to carry put near daily strikes against military outposts throughout the country. They now hold sway over nearly half of Afghanistan.
Trump has expressed frustration with America’s longest war repeatedly saying he wants to bring the estimated 12,000 US soldiers home and calling on Afghanistan’s own police and military to step up. The Afghan government has also been criticized for its relentless corruption.