MANILA: Philippine security forces confirmed yesterday the first Filipino "suicide bomber" attack in the Asian country, warning Islamic militants were grooming other local prospects for more such actions in the future. Norman Lasuca and one other yet to be identified suspect blew themselves up outside a military camp on the remote southern island of Jolo on June 28 in explosions that also killed three soldiers and two civilians, authorities said.

"We can now confirm… the incidence of the first suicide bombing in the Philippines, perpetrated by a Filipino in the person of Norman Lasuca," military spokesman Brigadier-General Edgard Arevalo told a news conference. The Islamic State group claimed the attack that marked a serious escalation of militancy driven by the influence of IS in Southeast Asia. A decades-old Islamist insurgency in the southern Philippines has killed tens of thousands, but suicide attacks have been used extremely rarely, with foreign fighters blamed for the few that have been carried out.

The region's military commander gave a somber outlook. "Based on our monitoring, they (IS militants) are training others," Lieutenant-General Cirilito Sobejana told reporters. "The probability is high," Sobejana said when asked about the likelihood of future suicide attacks by local militants. He said suicide bomber recruits were training in the south of the mainly Catholic country where IS-linked outfits operate.

MANILA: Philippine Armed Forces spokesperson Brigadier General Edgard Arevalo, left, speaks beside Philippine National Police (PNP) spokesperson Bernard Banac during a joint press conference at the military headquarters in Manila. — AFP

Police spokesman Bernard Banac said the Jolo bombing was "organised by the Abu Sayyaf group"-Filipino militants engaged in kidnappings and bombings and who look to IS as a "model". A local woman and member of Jolo's dominant Tausug ethnic group claimed one of the attackers was her son, allowing the authorities to match their DNA samples. "The security environment in our country has changed," Arevalo said, requiring military and police "adjustments in techniques, tactics and procedures".

"Before, we only heard of IED (improvised explosive device) attacks, remote-controlled attacks but this time an individual blew himself up as a full-fledged suicide bomber." The June 28 attack came months after explosions described by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte as a "suicide bombing" killed 21 people in Jolo's Catholic cathedral in January. Banac, the police spokesman, said authorities had no way of knowing whether the feet of a man and a woman recovered after that attack belonged to Filipinos or foreigners.

In July last year an explosives-laden van driven by a Moroccan man killed 11, including the driver, when it blew up at a security checkpoint on the southern island of Basilan. "The Moroccan… was the first suicide bomber but a lot has happened since then. In a way, they have leveled up and are now using our locals for suicide bombings," Sobejana said yesterday.-AFP