MANILA — Investigators are eyeing extortion as the primary motive for a market blast in the southern province of Sultan Kudarat, for which the Islamic State claimed responsibility, the military said Monday.
The market's owner received several phone calls from unidentified individuals asking for money before an improvised explosive device ripped through the establishment's parking space in Isulan town Saturday, injuring 8 civilians, said military spokesperson Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo.
"Ang malinaw pa rin pong lumalabas sa ngayon ay extortion attempt po ito," he told radio DZMM.
(What's appearing clearly now is this is an extortion attempt.)
The blast comes at a time of heightened tensions in the volatile south after 3 incidents in the past year, which authorities said were suicide bombings by militants linked to the Islamic State.
"'Di po natin ma-rule out agad [ang terorismo]," said Arevalo.
(We can't immediately rule out terrorism.)
Local terrorist groups like the New People's Army can make bombs and are often involved with extortion, he said.
The military does not see any connection so far between the blast and another explosion that killed a suspected suicide bomber near a military detachment in Sulu province Sunday, he said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast in Sulu, a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf, a band of militants that has pledged allegiance to Islamic State. The group is notorious for piracy and kidnap for ransom.
Mindanao is troubled by banditry and armed rebellions that keep large parts of the region mired in poverty and instability.
President Rodrigo Duterte has vowed to wipe out Abu Sayyaf and has intensified military operations in its strongholds, though bombings targeting civilians and military have continued unabated.
With a report from Reuters