ZAMBOANGA CITY – Eleven people were killed when a car bomb exploded Tuesday morning at a security checkpoint after government militias stopped the suspicious vehicle in Lamitan City in the southern Philippine province of Basilan.
The powerful explosion obliterated the vehicle and left a huge crater and among those killed were a woman and a child. Five soldiers were wounded in the explosion.
The bodies of those killed in the blast were all scattered around the checkpoint in Bulanting village, about 2 kilometers away from downtown Lamitan. Three goats grazing from a nearby field also died from the explosion which can be heard from as far as five kilometers away.
It was unknown how many people were inside the van, but media reports said among the passengers was believed to be a foreign terrorist.
It said the terrorists came from a nearby town and heading to downtown Lamitan when they were stopped at the checkpoint after the passengers could not speak the local dialect or answer questions asked by militias and minutes later the explosion occurred.
Among those killed in the blast was the militia commander whose unit is under the supervision of the Philippine Army. It was not immediately known how many civilians were injured in the explosion.
Governor Mujiv Hataman, of the Muslim autonomous region, has strongly condemned the violence and said authorities were investigating the blast. He said a total of 11 people were killed in the blast. “We condemn this brazen act of violence against our people, and trust that we will exert every effort to help the families affected by this incident and we will strengthen efforts to secure our region without compromising the rights of the Bangsamoro.”
“We mourn the loss of lives in this senseless attack to our safety, and we continue to thank those who have devoted and continue to devote their lives to securing peace in the Bangsamoro. The commitment to rights and safety of our people that we share with them defines our collective efforts, and we continue to stand and work with them as we seek justice for those who have lost their lives to conflict and violence,” he said.
The province is a known stronghold of the militant group Abu Sayyaf whose leaders have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. Several foreign fighters had been killed in clashes with soldiers in Basilan in recent years.
The Philippine military earlier urged the public to be on alert and stay vigilant at all times following attempts by pro-ISIS militants to bomb civilian targets in the restive southern region.
Just recently, troops and policemen foiled a bombing attempt in the southern Tacurong City after a civilian discovered an improvised explosive along General Lim Street and immediately informed authorities about it.
Security officials have blamed failed attack to the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and tagged two fighters Brah Lumambas and Bohari Adam, both bomb-makers under militant leader Gani Saligan, as behind the attempt.
The BIFF, whose members were mostly former Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels, is on a terror campaign following a series of defeat from deadly clashes with military forces in Mindanao in recent months.
Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, commander of the 6th Infantry Division, appealed to citizens to immediately report to authorities anything that is suspicious – from people to abandoned baggage in public places and communities.
Sporadic clashes still continue between troops and militants in the South as BIFF stepped up its attacks on military targets.
In June, fighting broke out in Olandang village in North Cotabato’s Midsayap town where troops raided a BIFF hideout and the target of the operation was militant leader Mando Mamalumpong. Soldiers recovered an M16 automatic rifle, ammunition, two grenades and improvised explosive, including military uniform and a binocular, in the area where the gun fight occurred.
The military also launched an offensive in Liguasan marsh in the neighboring province of Maguindanao and claimed to have killed over a dozen militants. It said the strike also destroyed an alleged weapons’ factory of the BIFF in the marsh.
President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly called on militants to talk peace and also promised amnesty and financial aid if they surrender to the government. (Mindanao Examiner)
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