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The Philippines

Islamic State claims powerful van bomb attack in southern Philippines

The explosion, which killed 11 people, happened as pro-government militants were inspecting a van that stopped at the checkpoint

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 July, 2018, 1:25pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 July, 2018, 9:58pm

A bomb exploded in a van in the restive southern Philippines on Tuesday, killing 11 people at a military checkpoint in what militant group Islamic State called a suicide attack for which it claimed responsibility.

Regional military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Gerry Besana said six army scout rangers and a militiaman were wounded in the explosion after dawn outside an army militia outpost that tore a crater in the road and damaged the outpost in Lamitan city in one of the worst terrorist attacks in the country this year.

Militiamen, who have been alerted on possible bombings, stopped the van at a checkpoint in Colonia village, where the bomb went off, military officials said.

“If he triggered the bomb, he was probably waiting for a more opportune time to inflict harm on a bigger number of people,” Besana said, referring to the driver, who died in the blast. “That’s their death wish – the more, the merrier.”

In a statement carried by its Amaq news agency, Islamic State claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing attack, which it called “a martyrdom operation”.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque condemned the bombing as a “war crime”, calling it “an illegal use of force, even in times of armed conflict”.

However, military spokesman Colonel Edgard Arevalo said security forces were investigating and there was no basis yet to conclude that the incident was a suicide bombing or had been carried out by a foreigner.

Investigators have yet to determine whether the bomb or bombs were being carried in the van or the vehicle had been turned into a car bomb, Besana said.

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Militiaman Gregorio Inso, who survived but lost his wife in the blast, said the van was flagged down for inspection by his colleagues outside the outpost. When the driver apparently wanted to restart the engine, the militiamen looked inside and saw suspicious strands of wire inside the van and called a group of rangers.

“When the rangers were approaching, the vehicle suddenly exploded,” Inso said. “When I looked again everyone was dead.”

Earlier, Arevalo said the driver, who witnesses described as looking scared and who did not respond to questions at the checkpoint, could be an Abu Sayyaf militant under ruthless commander Furuji Indama, who recently plotted bombings in predominantly Muslim Basilan.

Government forces have also been put on alert in the south, scene of decades-long Muslim separatist unrest, after President Rodrigo Duterte signed a new autonomy agreement last week with the biggest Muslim rebel group in the country.

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The peace deal has been opposed by much smaller but violent extremist bands like Abu Sayyaf and others which have aligned themselves with Islamic State.

Duterte also suggested last week that he might be willing to talk to Abu Sayyaf.

The country’s south remains under martial law, which Duterte declared last year to deal with a five-month siege by Islamic State-linked militants in Marawi that left more than 1,200 mostly militants dead, displaced hundreds of thousands of residents and sparked fears that the extremist group was gaining a foothold in Southeast Asia following battlefield defeats in Syria and Iraq.