Cotabato City”•Two people were killed and at least 32 others were wounded when a bomb went off on a busy street outside the South Seas shopping mall here at 1:30 p.m. Monday, police said.
Initial police reports said the explosion took place just outside the main entrance of the mall along Don Rufino Alonzo Street in this city.
Police said they found and disarmed a second bomb in the baggage counter of the mall.
Police Sr. Supt Rolly Sionosa Octavio, city police director, identified one of the fatalities as Jonathan Tasic, 39, a resident of Upi, Maguindanao.
Hospital officials said Meriam Usman, 35, a resident of Capucao village, died on arrival at the Cotabato Regional Medical Center.
Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi denounced the bombers as “heartless” and called on city residents to avoid speculation as authorities conducted a full investigation.
“We are in close contact with the Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police, and I understand that they are now pursuing a lead,” she said in a press conference. “But as of now, the least that we can do is to sympathize with the victims and pray.”
She added: “We have had good security plans. There were no lapses in the local security preparations for the holiday season. But there are instances when things like this are really unpredictable.”
Tasic worked for the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) as a driver for Commissioner Melenio Ulama, who represents the indigenous people.
One of the injured victims is a member of the Joint Salam Force of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the AFP, his companion told local reporters.
Octavio said at least 27 people were taken to different hospitals for shrapnel wounds.
In a statement, the MILF’s United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP) condemned the attack and called on the authorities to conduct a thorough investigation of the incident and make the results public.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines put the city on lockdown.
Maj Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, Commander of the 6th Infantry Division said the explosion occurred near a row of stalls selling firecrackers and fireworks and that many of the injured were minors.
A military explosive ordnance team was at the scene to determine what triggered the blast.
Sobejana blamed the attack on the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, saying it was in retaliation for recent military offensives against the group that killed seven bandits.
“This is part of the retaliation, but the problem is they are victimizing the civilians,” Sobejana said.
But he also said the blast could have been the work of the Daula Islamiya, a group inspired by the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group.