The homemade explosive device went off at a street festival in a crowded town in southern Philippines, the latest unrest in a region prone to militancy. The army suspects a Daesh-linked group of being behind the attack.

Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Maguindanao in a 2014 file photo.
Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Maguindanao in a 2014 file photo. (AP)

A bomber who killed two people and wounded 37 in the southern Philippines offered fruit to people in hopes of evading suspicion when he abandoned the bag that also contained the bomb, a Philippine military commander said Wednesday.

One of those killed was a child. The homemade explosive device went off during a celebration in a densely-populated area in the town of Isulan in Sultan Kudarat province late Tuesday. A night market and other activities were set up for the week at the Hamungaya Festival in commemoration of the town’s founding anniversary. 

"The man offered rambutan and other fruits as a diversion, to make it appear the content of his bag was harmless," Brigadier General Cirilito Sobejana said.

Wary residents did alert police when the man hurriedly left the bag under a parked motorbike near a night market, Sobejana said. 

Troops chased the man when villagers pointed to him but he fled on a motorbike that had its engine already running in the chaos caused by the explosion.

The bomb was made from a water pump, which shattered and blew steel fragments and motorbike parts toward the night-market crowd, Sobejana said.

Based on an initial assessment, the bomb went off as a military truck passed by. An investigation was underway and there were no immediate claims of responsibility, according to police.

Two other improvised explosive devices were diffused nearby.

Among the injured were two army soldiers securing the area.

Sultan Kudarat province is on the Philippines' second-largest island, Mindanao, parts of which have been plagued by decades of Maoist and separatist rebellions that have given rise to banditry and the influence of the Daesh group.

“It seems the enemies are targeting the security forces guarding the festival activity,” Captain Arvin Encinas, spokesman of the Army’s 6th Division, said as quoted by local media. Encinas said the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), an armed group that has pledged allegiance with Daesh, was suspected of being behind the attack.

The BIFF is a breakaway group of around 1,000 armed followers fighting for an independent Moro state, named after the region's indigenous Muslims in the south. Its members are mostly rag-tag rebels who engage in extortion, kidnapping, robbery and bombings.

Mindanao remains under martial law until the end of the year following a five-month occupation Marawi City in 2017 by an alliance of rebels loyal to Daesh, in which the military prevailed. Hundreds of people were killed, mostly rebels and soldiers.

The latest bombing comes a month after a device was detonated in a van stopped at a checkpoint on the island of Basilan which killed 11 people, including four civilians. 

Source: TRTWorld and agencies