At least 23 hurt in southern Philippine bombings

MANILA • A series of explosions rocked the southern Philippines in an area known for ISIS-linked violence, wounding at least 23 people including soldiers, the local media reported.

A hand grenade was thrown into a military truck patrolling Cotabato City on the restive southern island of Mindanao on Sunday evening, wounding nine soldiers and seven civilians, the Philippine Daily Inquirer said, quoting regional military spokesman Arvin Encinas.

It was followed by an improvised explosive device blast in the nearby town of Libungan, wounding five civilians, the Inquirer said, quoting a regional governor.

There were reports of another blast in the neighbouring town of Upi in Maguindanao, injuring two people, ABS CBN News reported.

No groups claimed responsibility for the attacks, which took place as the government planned this year to lift military rule on the island due to the improving security situation.

"We do not discount the possibility that Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (Biff) and Daesh-inspired groups are behind this," Major Encinas told Agence France-Presse, referring to the militants linked to Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The Philippines is plagued by violent insurgencies, including a Muslim-led separatist uprising in Mindanao that has killled some 100,000 people.

Though a landmark peace deal with the largest of the rebel groups, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, was sealed this year, the most extremist factions were not included. These include the ISIS-aligned Biff and Abu Sayyaf, a kidnap-for-ransom gang behind some of the nation's deadliest attacks.

Two people were killed and 35 hurt in Cotabato in December last year after a bomb went off outside a mall, which was also blamed on ISIS-linked militants. A worrying escalation of militancy was recorded in June when a Philippine militant - who the military named as the first local suicide bomber - blew himself up in an attack on a military base.

ISIS has stepped up its strategy of absorbing existing insurgent groups worldwide as its "caliphate" crumbled in the Middle East.

In May 2017, hundreds of pro-ISIS gunmen seized the Muslim city of Marawi, sparking a five-month battle that left over 1,000 people dead.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 24, 2019, with the headline 'At least 23 hurt in southern Philippine bombings'. Print Edition | Subscribe