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Soldiers, Civilians Hurt in Two Blasts in Southern Philippines

Jeoffrey Maitem and Mark Navales
Cotabato, Philippines
2019-12-22
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Soldiers inspect the site where a grenade exploded in the southern Philippines city of Cotabato, wounding 16, Dec. 22, 2019.
Soldiers inspect the site where a grenade exploded in the southern Philippines city of Cotabato, wounding 16, Dec. 22, 2019.
Mark Navales/BenarNews

Suspected Filipino militants linked to the Islamic State carried out near simultaneous grenade and bomb attacks in the southern Philippines on Sunday, leaving more than a dozen people injured, including nine soldiers, authorities said.

No one has come forward to claim responsibility, but officials said members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) group likely carried out the attacks, which took place a day before a visit to the area by President Rodrigo Duterte.

The first blast occurred around 6 p.m. along busy Sinsuat Avenue in Cotabato City. Sixteen people, including nine soldiers from the 5th Special Forces Battalion, were wounded, regional military spokesman Major Arvin John Encinas told BenarNews by phone.

“It was a grenade attack. The targets were our troops,” Encinas said, adding that the explosive device was thrown by a suspect as an Army truck passed by.

The explosion occurred ahead of a visit to Cotabato by President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday to distribute land titles to beneficiaries of the state’s agrarian reform program.

Encinas blamed the attack on the BIFF, a splinter group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country’s former leading separatist group that signed a peace pact with Manila and now controls an autonomous region in the south.

The government has begun integrating MILF fighters into its ranks, primarily to help it against smaller armed factions that have vowed to continue the fight for full independence.

The BIFF is one of several known groups waging that fight and has flown the black Islamic State (IS) flag.

“We could not discount their involvement but they are the only group we are confronting right now in that area,” Encinas said.

Meanwhile, in the nearby town of Libungan in North Cotabato province, suspected militants detonated a homemade bomb around 6:12 p.m. at the town center, injuring five civilians, governor Nancy Catamco told BenarNews.

“Initially recovered from the scenes were 60mm mortar shell fragments and [a] blasting cap,” Catamco said.

In April this year, a homemade bomb exploded at a packed restaurant in nearby Isulan town, also in Mindanao, leaving one dead and 17 wounded.

Richel V. Umel from Iligan City, Philippines contributed to this report.

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