At least nine women, including the three daughters of acting group leader Abu Sayyaf, have been arrested in a series of raids, the Philippine military said on Tuesday, as the government steps up efforts to attack fighters armed accused of carrying out a series of raids. deadly attacks in the southern province of Sulu.

Joint Task Force Sulu said in a statement that weapons and bomb-making equipment were seized from the women, whom the government described as “potential suicide bombers.”

“This is how desperate the remaining terrorists are, ready to sacrifice their families just to get back to government forces,” said Major General William Gonzales, the military task force commander, as quoted by media on Tuesday.

Gonzales pledged government troops “will continue to exhaust” all options “to end terrorism here in this province.”

The suspects face charges of illegal possession of explosives.

Gonzales did not say how investigators were able to determine the women were planning a suicide bombing.

But Lieutenant-General Corleto Vinluan, head of the Western Mindanao command, later told reporters that the women had undergone a suicide bombing “orientation” program and were assembling explosives in their homes.

“They are now using wives and widows because they have difficulty recruiting men, and it is more difficult to identify and detect female suicide bombers,” Vinluan said, quoted by the media.

Earlier this month, at least four Abu Sayyaf operatives surrendered to authorities, the military said, bringing the number of fighters who surrendered over the past year to nearly 100.

‘Daughters of the Emir of Abu Sayyaf’

The army said three of the suspicious women arrested were the daughters of Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, identified as the acting “emir” of Abu Sayyaf, who also pledged allegiance to the ISIL group (ISIS).

Two of them were arrested in the town of Patikul in Sulu on Friday, followed by a separate raid that caught the third sister, Elena, who is the widow of another Abu Sayyaf sub-commander named Walid Abun .

The army said Elena was also accompanied by another woman, whose husband was also killed during a meeting between Abu Sayyaf and government forces.

A photo provided by the military showed three of the suspicious women with their faces blurry and one of them carrying a toddler.

Sawadjaan has been accused of organizing several suicide bombings in Sulu.

Separate operations in recent days have also caught five other suspicious women, the military said.

Components of improvised explosive devices such as switches, batteries, pipes, concrete nails, firing plugs as well as materials for detonation were recovered. Photos of the bombing equipment and identity cards of the suspects were also published by the military and shared on social media.

In August 2020, two suspected female suicide bombers blew themselves up in Jolo, the capital of Sulu, killing at least 15 servicemen and injuring dozens.

In early 2019, suicide bombers also blew themselves up, killing more than 20 people inside the city’s Catholic cathedral.

Sulu is known as the stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf group, which has long fought for independence in the southern region of Mindanao.

The group regards Mindanao as their ancestral homeland dating back to the pre-Spanish colonial period.

But the group is also known for its kidnappings, robberies and deadly bombings.

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