Manila: An explosion inside a van killed at least 10 people at a military checkpoint in the restive southern Philippines on Tuesday, in what officials said may have been a bombing by militants with ties to the Islamic State group.
The blast occurred moments after troops stopped the vehicle and spoke to the driver, according to an official on the island of Basilan and a military incident report. Basilan is a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf group, which is notorious for kidnapping and banditry, and home of the former “emir” of Islamic State in Southeast Asia, who was killed last year.
Bombings of vehicles are extremely rare in the southern Philippines despite decades of separatist and Islamist violence and instability that has attracted foreign extremists. “We don’t know what the target was but it was prematurely detonated,” Lieutenant Colonel Mon Almodovar, commander of the scout ranger unit in the area, told news channel ANC.
A soldier, five militiamen and four civilians, including a mother and her child, were killed. Others were wounded but the exact number of casualties remained unclear.
Basilan governor Jim Saliman said he had received reports that Abu Sayyaf was responsible but did not elaborate. Basilan is a no-go area for most Filipinos and Western countries typically warn citizens to stay away because of the penetration of Abu Sayyaf and fierce military offensives against its fighters.
Abu Sayyaf is infamous for taking fishermen and crew from commercial ships as hostages and beheading Western captives for whom ransom is not paid. President Rodrigo Duterte was on a neighbouring island at the weekend and has offered peace talks with several Abu Sayyaf factions.
Duterte’s offer came two days after he approved a law that would allow minority Muslims in the region to create a new autonomous area with its own political and economic powers.