A blast at a military base rocked Sulu on Friday killing five people, including three soldiers, and wounded 12 others in what Islamic State stated was an attack by its suicide bombers.
The military added that the blast occurred at around noon at a base in Sulu.
Armed Forces Western Mindanao Command spokesperson Major Arvin Encinas had stated earlier that the military was eyeing the Abu Sayyaf as the perpetrators behind the attack, given their previous activities in the region. The group has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.
Islamic State stated via its Amaq news agency that its fighters had infiltrated the base strapped with explosives and killed or wounded 100 soldiers. It posted an image of two young men standing beside a black Islamic State flag, wearing what appeared to be vests designed to hold explosives.
Neither the claim nor the authenticity of the photograph could be immediately verified.
The incident will be a major setback for President Rodrigo Duterte’s goal of wiping out Abu Sayyaf, for which he has created a special infantry division in Sulu to be comprised of 4,500 troops by 2022.
There was no immediate comment from Duterte’s office.
The army provided few details of what took place, but vowed a thorough investigation and to respond “with formidable resolve”.
Cirilito Sobejana, chief of the Western Mindanao Command said, “Ground troops continue to establish the circumstances and identify the perpetrators behind this inhumane attack. We will intensify our offensives to crush terrorist groups.”
Clashes between troops and Abu Sayyaf have increased in the wake of a January bombing of a Jolo church that killed 21 people and wounded close to 100, among them soldiers and civilians. Islamic State also claimed responsibility for that assault.
Duterte has upheld martial law across the Mindanao region to curb Islamic State’s influence and the decades of banditry by Abu Sayyaf, which is known for its brutality and for posting videos of captives begging for their lives, and for beheading those for whom ransom demands are not met.