The Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Cathedral in Jolo, Sulu following the Jan. 27 blasts. PHOTO COURTESY OF AFP WESTERN MINDANAO COMMAND

Indonesian authorities have identified the couple behind the suicide bomb attacks that killed 23 people at Jolo Cathedral in January.

Quoting Indonesian police, Sidney Jones, director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict based in Jakarta, said the husband-and-wife tandem of Rullie Rian Zeke and Ulfah Handayani Saleh left Indonesia to join the Islamic State via Turkey way back in March 2016, together with their three children, Ainun Ibrahim, Aisyah Ruli Riqn and Zainab Khairunisa.

They were caught by Turkish authorities in January 2017 and deported back to Indonesia that same month, she said.

The couple then “underwent a short rehabilitation program and were allowed to go home,” Jones said.

On January 27, the two staged an attack at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Cathedral in Jolo, Sulu in the middle of 8 a.m. Sunday Mass. The female suicide bomber was said to have exploded her vest inside the church, while her husband detonated his bomb at the parking area.

Twenty-three people were killed, including the Indonesian couple, while dozens were injured.

Philippine authorities had said the Indonesian couple arrived in Sulu through the porous southern borders.

Jones said new information on the couple was said to have emerged following the arrest of a certain Yoga Febrianto in Malaysia on May 26.

‘7 foreigners training Filipinos on suicide bombing’

This developed as a ranking official of the Armed Forces confirmed that seven foreign terrorists were training locals, including on suicide bombing, in Western Mindanao.

Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, commander of the military’s Western Mindanao Command, also said 42 other foreigners were suspected of being terrorists and placed on a watch list.

In a phone interview, Sobejana said the seven confirmed terrorists were co-located with the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu and Basilan, and with the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Maguindanao.

“That’s across our areas of operation, Sulu, Maguindanao, Basilan, across my area,” Sobejana said of the seven, without revealing their nationalities, as they were still in the country.

“They are doing the usual, they are training bombers, grooming suicide bombers as manifested by the recent incident. They are also training [Filipinos] on other terroristic actions,” he said.

Sobejana was referring to the June 28 bombings at the headquarters of the 1st Brigade Combat Team in Indanan, Sulu that left seven people dead, including the two suicide bombers.

One of the bombers was identified as Norman Lasuca, a 23-year-old Filipino member of the Abu Sayyaf, and the first case of a local suicide bomber. Authorities are still determining the identity of the second suicide bomber.

Intel still validating

As to the 42 other foreigners on the watch list, Sobejana said: “We cannot yet confirm. We have criteria in validating for them to be considered as foreign terrorists. It’s more of an effort by our intelligence unit.”

About two weeks ago, security analyst Rommel Banlaoi said an Egyptian couple was reportedly in Sulu, encouraging Filipino terrorists to carry out suicide bombings on the instruction of the Islamic State.

Banlaoi said the couple – one of them was identified as alias Abu Abdurahman – arrived in the country even before the January 27 suicide bombings at the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Cathedral in Jolo, Sulu that killed 23 people, including the Indonesian couple that detonated the bombs. (