COTABATO CITY – At least 7 people were wounded in a motorcycle bomb explosion ahead of the surrender Saturday of over a hundred Muslim rebels in southern Philippines.
The powerful blast occurred outside a market in the town of Isulan in Sultan Kudarat province which was previously bombed by Muslim extremist group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a breakaway faction of the larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The MILF, which signed an interim peace deal with Manila in 2014, is set to surrender hundreds of assorted weapons to the government as part of the “decommissioning” process.
The motorcycle, rigged with explosives, was parked outside the market when it went off and wounded those nearby, including a traffic constable. No individual or group claimed responsibility for the terror attack, but it occurred even as the whole southern region is under an extended martial rule.
It was unclear how the bomber managed to sneak into the town, passing through several police and military checkpoints and road blocks and left the motorcycle bomb undetected by authorities.
In April, over a dozen people were injured when a motorcycle rigged with explosives also went off outside the Carlito’s Chicken restaurant in Isulan town. The blast coincided with the town’s 61st founding anniversary.
A similar attack – claimed by the Islamic State – also occurred in August last year when a motorcycle bomb exploded outside a row of shops in Isulan and wounded several civilians. The BIFF was believed to have carried out the two previous bombings and possibly the latest attack. It was not immediately known if the attack was connected to the surrender of the MILF rebels to the government.
Security forces have been fighting several Islamist militant groups in the southern region where President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the armed forces to crush terrorism.
Leaders of the BIFF have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, also claimed responsibility for last year’s attack in the town. The BIFF, whose members were mostly former Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters, is one of several pro-ISIS militant groups fighting for the establishment of a caliphate on Mindanao.
Security forces have been fighting militant groups in the southern region the past years. The blast occurred following President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to the armed forces to crush terrorism.
The MILF said a total of 1,060 combatants from about 40,000 fighters – and their weapons will be decommissioned. It said the decommissioning process will help the rebels return to the fold of the law and establish a civilian life.
Rebel chieftain Murad Ebrahim, who is also the Chief Minister of the Muslim autonomous region, said the weapons will be handed over to the independent decommissioning body headed by Turkish Ambassador Fatih Ulusoy.
After their surrender, the rebels will each receive at least P100,000 from the Duterte government and a socio-economic assistance package of up to P1 million. (Mindanao Examiner. With additional report from Rhoderick Beñez.)
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