Military lowers death toll in Basilan blast

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 01 2018 07:39 AM | Updated as of Aug 07 2019 05:52 PM

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MANILA - A bomb that exploded in a van at a security checkpoint in Lamitan, Basilan left 10 people dead, contrary to initial reports that it killed 11, the military clarified Tuesday. 

Initial reports said among the 11 fatalities were the van driver, a soldier, 5 paramilitary troopers, and 4 civilians. 

A CAFGU operative that was reported dead, however, turned out to be alive, but was in critical condition, said military spokesperson Col. Edgard Arevalo. 

Tuesday's explosion happened moments after troops stopped the vehicle that was allegedly loaded with improvised explosives. The driver, who was alone, allegedly detonated the bomb, the military said.

In a statement carried by its Amaq news agency, Islamic State claimed responsibility for the Tuesday's bombing, which it called "a martyrdom operation".

The former emir of Islamic State in Southeast Asia, who was killed last year by Philippine troops, was a leader of the Abu Sayyaf, a group notorious for kidnapping and banditry whose stronghold is in Basilan. 

Authorities are not discounting Islamic State's claim of responsibility, but it would be easy for any armed group to claim responsibiliy for the attack, Arevalo said. 

"Wala po akong pormal na report na natanggap d'yan subalit napakadali namang sakyan 'yan lalo nang iyun naman ang kanilang gustong ipakita na sila ay terorista, kaya nilang gawin iyan," he told radio DZMM. 

(I have not received any formal report on that but it would be easy to ride on the issue especially since the Islamic State wants to show that they are terrorists and can mount such attacks.) 

"Subalit, again, hindi natin dini-discount ang posibilidad na iyan sapagkat nagpapatuloy pa ang ating imbestigasyon," he added. 

(But again,we are not discounting that possibility because our investigation is still ongoing.) 

President Rodrigo Duterte was on a neighboring island last weekend and has offered peace talks with several Abu Sayyaf factions.

Duterte's offer came 2 days after he approved a law to allow minority Muslims in the region to create a new autonomous area with its own political and economic powers. 

The bombing was a sign extremists were bent on sabotaging a peace effort that had a chance of success, said security expert Rommel Banlaoi.

"These pro-Islamic State militants will pose a tremendous challenge for the implementation of the Bangsamoro Organic Law," he said, referring to the autonomy law.

Vehicle bombings are extremely rare in the Philippines, despite decades of separatist and Islamist violence that have destabilised the Mindanao region and lured foreign extremists.

With a report from Reuters