Suspected jihadis remotely detonated a bomb on Monday near the entrance of a mall in the southern Philippines, killing at least two and wounding nearly 30 others as they did last minute shopping ahead of the New Year’s Eve celebrations in an attack that officials say bears the hallmarks of the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).
The Associated Press (AP) reported:
The bomb went off at the South Seas mall in Cotabato city [in the southern Philippines], wounding shoppers, vendors, and commuters. Authorities recovered another unexploded bomb nearby as government forces imposed a security lockdown in the city, military and police officials said. Maj. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said an initial investigation showed the design of the bomb was similar to those used in the past by local Muslim militants who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.
The Filipino general described the attack as “retaliation” for a government offensive that began last week against jihadis from the ISIS-linked group called Daulah Islamiyah.
“This is a part of the retaliation, but the problem is they’re victimizing innocent civilians,” Sobejana told reporters.
The bombing, the latest in a number of attacks blamed on militants in the volatile region, occurred despite on-and-off military assaults against pockets of militant groups operating in the marshlands and hinterlands not far from Cotabato and outlying provinces.
Hundreds of militants aligned with the Islamic State group laid siege in the southern Islamic city of Marawi in May last year, sparking five months of intense fighting and military air strikes that left more than 1,100 mostly militants dead and displaced hundreds of thousands of villagers.
An assessment by the Pentagon’s office of the inspector general (OIG) released in November revealed that the number of ISIS fighters in the Philippines has more than doubled from 200 to 500 in the last few months.
According to the Guardian, old and new ISIS arrivals in Christian-majority Philippines are trying to re-establish the east Asia wilayah (or East Asia ISIS province) crushed by the Filipino army in October 2017.
Despite the near total collapse of the ISIS territorial caliphate in Iraq and Syria, the terrorist group continues to operate several international affiliates in various corners of the world.
Echoing other assessments, the Guardian reported in November that the growing number ISIS jihadis in the Philippines is galvanizing local terrorist groups in nation’s Muslim-majority island of Mindanao into renewing efforts to establish a caliphate in the region.
“The presence of foreign fighters is known to energize and embolden local pro-ISIS groups and there are increasing concerns of a renewed bid to declare a caliphate in Mindanao,” the newspaper pointed out.
In October, the Washington Times, citing the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), noted that there are moreISIS-linked foreign fighters in Southeast Asia now, namely in the Mindanao region, than there ever were during the peak of the U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.