KUALA LUMPUR: Ten people died on Tuesday (Jul 31) when a van exploded at a security check point in the southern Philippines just days after President Rodrigo Duterte enacted an autonomy law to bring peace to the conflict-torn Mindanao region.
One soldier, five members known of the Citizen Auxiliary Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) and four civilians were killed.
The military believes the van was planning to transport improvised explosive devices (IEDs) into Lamitan city on Basilan island to carry out terror attacks.
Philippine Armed Forces Chief of Staff, General Carlito Galvez Jr hailed the soldier and CAFGU members as heroes who died to save others.
“They (victims) have foiled an attempt to bring in a vehicle loaded with IEDs to downtown Lamitan city at the cost of their own lives,” said Galvez in a press statement.
“While we commend our troops, we condemn in the highest possible terms at this another dastardly attempt of terrorists to kill, maim and injure innocent victims,” he added.
The IED went off at 5.50am when security forces were inspecting the vehicle after flagging it down, said the Western Mindanao Command in a statement. The Western Mindanao Command oversees security on Basilan island.
The military denied it was a suicide bombing, saying that investigations are ongoing.
A faction of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) based in Basilan under the command of Furuji Indama is suspected of being behind the blast.
“It is not conclusive but a group affiliated to them (ASG) could be behind it,” Lieutenant-Colonel Gerry Besana, spokesman of the Western Mindanao Command, told Channel NewsAsia.
Furuji’s predecessor, Isnilon Hapilon, led the takeover of Marawi some 510 kilometres away in May 2017, laying siege to the city for five months before the military regained control.
The ASG is notorious for kidnapping locals and foreigners for ransom and beheading them when they cannot afford to pay.
The blast comes less than a week after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte enacted the Bangsamor Organic Law (BOL) allowing Muslims in Mindanao to start moving toward self-rule by 2022 as part of the effort to end violence in the south.
A day after the law’s passing, Duterte extended an olive branch to ASG, offering to hold talks in keeping with his effort for peace.