Philippines arrests suicide bomb suspects

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Philippine security forces have arrested nine suspected female suicide bombers in separate raids in the country's conflict-ridden southern region, the military said on Tuesday.

The suspects were daughters, sisters and widows of slain leaders and members of the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group. They were apprehended in separate operations in three towns on Jolo island, in the Sulu Archipelago, between Borneo and Mindanao.

Lieutenant General Corleto Vinluan, a regional military commander, said the simultaneous raids were conducted last Friday after authorities received a tip that they were holding an orientation on suicide bombing.

"They were still on the orientation stage while the improvised explosive devices were being assembled," Vinluan said.

"The [operations] led to the apprehension of nine female potential suicide bombers who are related to some of the notorious leaders and members of the Abu Sayyaf group," he added.

Authorities seized homemade bombs components, including switches, batteries, pipes, concrete nails, blasting cap, suspected ammonium nitrate fuel oil and detonating cord.

Last year, two female suicide bombers blew themselves up in Jolo town, killing at least 15 people and injuring several others.

Abu Sayyaf is the most violent Islamist militant group in the Philippines and has been blamed for some of the worst terrorist attacks in the country, as well as high-profile kidnappings for ransom.

The militants have abducted dozens of foreigners for ransom since 2000, killing some of them, including a German man in 2017.

The group has allied itself with the Islamic State extremist organisation, which has claimed responsibility for several bombings in the Philippines.