(Photo by - / AFP)
(Photo by - / AFP)

Cotabato: Suspected Muslim militants remotely detonated abomb near the entrance of a mall in the southern Philippines on Monday aspeople did last-minute shopping ahead of New Year’s Eve celebrations, killingat least two and wounding nearly 30, officials said.

The bomb wentoff near the baggage counter at the entrance of the South Seas mall in Cotabatocity, wounding shoppers, vendors and commuters. Authorities recovered anotherunexploded bomb nearby as government forces imposed a security lockdown in thecity, military and police officials said. Maj Gen Cirilito Sobejana said byphone that an initial investigation showed the design of the bomb was similarto those used in the past by local Muslim militants who have pledged allegianceto the Islamic State group.

Governmentforces launched an offensive against the militants belonging to a group calledDaulah Islamiyah last week and at least seven of the militants died in thefighting, Sobejana said. “This is a part of the retaliation, but theproblem is they’re victimizing innocent civilians,” he told reporters.  Supt Romeo Galgo Jr, the deputy policedirector of Cotabato, said witnesses saw a man leave a box in a crowded areanear the mall’s entrance where vendors and shoppers were milling.

The explosionshattered glass panels and scattered debris to the street fronting the mall. Twoof the roughly 30 people hit by the blast died while being brought to ahospital, Sobejana said. Cotabato Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi condemned thebombing and called on residents to help fight terrorism. “This is not justanother terroristic act but an act against humanity. I cannot fathom how suchevil exists in this time of merry making,” she said. “It isunimaginable how some people can start the new year with an act of cruelty butno matter how you threaten us, the people of Cotabato are resilient. … Wewill stand up against terrorism,” she told reporters.

The bombing,the latest in a number of attacks blamed on militants in the volatile region,occurred despite on-and-off military assaults against pockets of militantgroups operating in the marshlands and hinterlands not far from Cotabato andoutlying provinces. Hundreds of militants aligned with the Islamic State grouplaid siege in the southern Islamic city of Marawi in May last year, sparkingfive months of intense fighting and military airstrikes that left more than1,100 mostly militants dead and displaced hundreds of thousands of villagers. PresidentRodrigo Duterte placed the southern third of the country under martial law todeal with the Marawi siege, the worst security crisis he has faced since takingoffice in mid-2016.

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