Año tags foreign militant in blast

President Rodrigo Duterte combs his hair after reviewing the police under a sudden downpour during the 117th Philippine National Police Service anniversary celebration at Camp Crame. AP

A foreign militant was behind the powerful van blast that targeted a big public gathering but failed after the vehicle stalled and instead killed the suspect and 10 others, Interior and Local Government officer-in-charge Undersecretary Eduardo Año said.

The DILG chief said there’s no conclusive evidence the Islamic State (IS) terror group plotted the bombing. He said the extremist group could benefit by claiming it to project strength and gain new recruits.

The IS has claimed responsibility for last week’s blast.

He said the suspected militant asked villagers to push his van after it stalled but they became suspicious after seeing unusual wires in the explosives-laden vehicle, which blew up near a security outpost in the outskirts of Lamitan city on Basilan island.

More bombers halted

The other day, troops killed two bomb couriers at an army checkpoint.

One of the two militants opened fire at soldiers who flagged them down at a checkpoint, sparking a brief gunbattle in M’lang town in North Cotabato province, Brig. Cirilito Sobejana said.

Troops have been alerted to brace for possible retaliation by militants.

Police defused a bomb made from a 60 mm mortar round that was carried by the two suspects along with a pistol and a cellphone, which was to be used to remotely detonate the explosive, Sobejana said.

The two belonged to Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), one of a number of small armed groups aligned with the Islamic State group that have turned to bombings to project they’re still a force to reckon with amid battle setbacks, he said.

Low on logistics

“They’re running low on logistics and ammunition and cannot fight our troops face-to-face so they’re resorting to these IED emplacements to cause a public alarm and send the message that they still exist,” Sobejana said by telephone.

Last week, a bomb-laden van driven by a suspected militant went off in a powerful blast that killed 11 people, including a soldier, five militiamen and the driver, in a brazen attack near an army militia outpost in Lamitan city.

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

The Islamic State group, through its media arm, claimed credit for the attack, saying the attacker was a Moroccan. It, however, inaccurately cited a much higher military death toll.

Government forces have been 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.

The peace deal has been opposed by much smaller but violent extremist bands like the Abu Sayyaf and others, which have associated themselves with the IS.

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