An improvised bomb exploded at a packed restaurant in the southern Philippines on Wednesday, wounding at least 18 people, police and military officials said.
No one has immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
The bomb went off outside Carlito's Restaurant in Isulan, a city in Sultan Kudarat province, about 1,441 km (900 miles) south of Manila, regional army spokesman Col. Gerry Besana said.
“All military checkpoints were ordered to implement strict measures to lock down the town and arrest possible perpetrators,” Besana said, adding that military tanks and armored personnel carriers had been dispatched to the area.
Two pregnant women and two children were among victims who were rushed to a nearby hospital, according to a list of the wounded provided by local officials.
Additional security had been quickly deployed to Isulan, a mixed Christian-Muslim town that was the site of two bombings that left five dead and scores wounded last year, officials said.
Wednesday’s blast was the latest to hit the volatile region where security has been tense during the past two years after the government placed the southern region under martial law when pro-Islamic State (IS) militants took over the city of Marawi in May 2017.
At least 1,200 people were killed in Marawi, a once scenic predominantly Islamic city now partly abandoned after the deadly five-month siege. The government has said that some militants have escaped from Marawi and were recruiting for another attack.
In January, two bombs ripped through a Catholic Church on Jolo island, killing 23 people and wounding dozens. Military officials put the blame on the Abu Sayyaf, the smallest but most brutal of Philippine militant groups in the south. The IS claimed that a pair of its suicide bombers had carried out the blasts.
The Marawi siege was also launched by militants loyal to Isnilon Hapilon, an Abu Sayyaf leader who became the IS regional leader.
Last year, a bomb-laden van also exploded at a security checkpoint on the island of Basilan, killing 11 people. The IS also claimed responsibility for that attack, saying that an operative of German citizenship but of Moroccan roots executed the audacious strike.
The latest attack occurred as soldiers clashed with members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), in the towns of Shariff Aguak and Datu Saudi Ampatuan elsewhere in the south. There were no immediate reports of casualties in the latest clashes Wednesday.
The BIFF is a breakaway faction of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), once the country’s largest insurgent force that signed a peace pact with Manila and now control an autonomous region in the south.
“We are not discounting the possibility of this group’s involvement in the blast to divert authorities’ attention,” local army spokesman, Capt. Army Encinas said, referring to the BIFF.
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