A bomb blast tore through a crowd at a festival in the southern Philippines, killing three people and wounding dozens more in the second deadly attack in under a month in the region, authorities said.
The powerful bomb in the town of Isulan exploded on Tuesday, August 28 near a night market that was part of local celebrations in Sultan Kudarat province on the island of Mindanao.
The local mayor’s office said two other bombs discovered in the area were defused.
One person was killed and at least 36 were hurt in the blast, the mayor’s office added. There was no immediate word on the condition of the wounded.
Update August 29 The death toll from the bomb blast rose to three Dobol B Sa News TV reported, citing Philippine National Police spokesperson Superintendent Aldrin Gonzales.
Earlier, Channel NewsAsia reported that authorities were hunting two men believed to have planted the IED in a bag near a grocery store.
“One did the emplacement while the other one [drove] the getaway motorcycle,” Brigadier General Cirilito Sobejana said.
The lone fatality from the Isulan, Sultan Kudarat blast is identified as 52-year-old Lenie Ombrog. She was pronounced dead at the Holy Nazarene Hospital before midnight.
— Rambo Talabong (@rambotalabong) August 28, 2018
Local police officials said the bomb went off near a petrol station as Isulan was celebrating the 61st anniversary of its founding.
Isulan police Chief Superintendent Celestino Daniel told Rappler that police suspect the bomb was placed beneath a parked motorcycle.
“It was loud, we immediately left the area but I can’t forget the images of a young girl carried by her father, her shirt covered in blood,” said witness Judy Sapto, an area resident.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but authorities blamed Islamist militants, who have been fighting a decades-long insurgency in the south of the majority-Catholic archipelago.
Islamic State’s Amaq agency later claimed three Philippine soldiers were killed in the explosion.
“It’s obvious that the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters with links to ISIS has the strongest desire to initiate these kind of attacks,” said Philippine Army Captain Arvin Encinas.
The explosion incident tonight in Isulan, Sultan Kudarat involved a night market in front of Carlitos Restaurant.
A total of 34 patients were transported to Holy Nazarene Hospital, Matias Clinic, Sultan Kudarat Provincial Hospital and Isulan Doctor Specialist. pic.twitter.com/C769QpzL6T
— Philippine Red Cross (@philredcross) August 28, 2018
The attack comes less than a month after a van bomb ripped through a military checkpoint on the neighboring island of Basilan, killing 10 people. Islamic State claimed responsibility for that bombing and authorities believe the man behind the wheel of the explosives-laden van may have intended to target a nearby children’s parade.
These latest blasts follow the Duterte government enacting a law to create greater autonomy for the Muslim minority in the south and which is hoped to help end the conflict.
Several armed groups are active against government forces in the south of the Southeast Asian country, where a decades-long rebellion has claimed more than 100,000 lives by government count.
Last year another group pledging allegiance to ISIS occupied the Mindanao city of Marawi and fought a bloody conflict with U.S.-backed Philippine government forces for five months, leaving more than 1,100 people dead.
In response to the violence, President Rodrigo Duterte put Mindanao under an emergency order until the end of 2018.
But sporadic fighting has continued as a network of rebel groups operating on the island splinters, even after the main militant organisation the Moro Islamic Liberation Front engaged in peace talks.
With reporting from AFP. This post was updated on August 28 and August 29.