The attackers believed to have been involved in the deadly bombing of a church on the Philippines island of Sulu, were on Wednesday undergoing DNA tests.
Investigators want to discover if those suspected of carrying out Sunday’s attack, which killed 21 people and wounded more than 100, are Filipinos or foreigners.
In an exclusive interview with Arab News, the country’s Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that an eyewitness had reported seeing a “foreign-looking guy” near to the site of the attacks in Jolo city.
“Now we are trying to subject them (the attackers) to DNA (tests) so that we can legally find out if they are Filipino or non-Filipino,” he said.
The bombings were one of the deadliest assaults in recent years in a region plagued by decades of instability.
Although the Daesh terrorist group has already claimed involvement in the attack, the military believes it was the work of a faction of the local Abu Sayyaf militant organization.
Lorenzana said it was possible that both groups could be linked to the bombings at the Roman-Catholic church.
He said two factions of Abu Sayyaf were operating in Jolo under the direction of local commanders, one of whom was known to have pledged loyalty to Daesh and was possibly recruiting foreign fighters.
Lorenzana added that a “small group” of Daesh fighters from Malaysia and Indonesia had gone to Syria and then later entered the Philippines.
“This is not confirmed, but according to our intelligence we suspect there are about 40 (foreign fighters) spread all over (the island of) Mindanao,” he said. Others were also believed to be in central Mindanao, the island province of Basilan, and Sulu.
The defense chief said their nationalities were mostly Southeast Asian, Malaysian and Indonesian, with some from Morocco, Yemen and Pakistan.
Lorenzana said investigations were still underway to determine if the attacks were suicide bombings, but it seemed likely that the second of the explosions may have been a suicide attack.
A female survivor of the initial blast, according to Lorenzana, had reported that a woman sat four seats in front of her in the church, left behind a package.
Lorenzana added that if the attacks both turned out to be suicide bombings, it would be “alarming” as there had been no previous cases of Filipinos carrying out such assaults.
One of those who died in the incident, he said, had such terrible facial wounds that they could not be recognized. However, investigators had found body parts which they suspect belong to the unidentified man.
“Nobody is claiming him, so we are still trying to find out who this guy is,” Lorenzana said.