Posted on November 29, 2016
POLICE defused a bomb near the US embassy in Manila on Monday, with militants who had declared allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) group likely behind the attempted terrorist attack, authorities said.
A taxi passenger dropped the mortar bomb with a mobile phone detonator in a rubbish bin about 200 meters (650 feet) from the embassy along one of Manila’s busiest roads, but a street sweeper found it and alerted authorities, police said.
“This is an attempted act of terrorism,” Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Director-General Ronald M. dela Rosa told reporters, adding he believed the Maute Islamic militant group currently facing a military offensive in the southern Philippines was the prime suspect.
“Because of an ongoing police/military operation there, (the militants) have many casualties. We can theorize that this is a diversion to loosen our operations,” Mr. dela Rosa said.
Police said they detonated the bomb just over an hour after it was discovered.
For his part, President Rodrigo R. Duterte later said of today’s developments that “the intelligence community advised me that ISIS is connected” to the group, which is led by the brothers Abdullah and Omar Maute
“There is a waging war now in Lanao,” Mr. Duterte also said, referring to the military operation on its fifth day, Monday, in the mainly Muslim rural town of Butig, Lanao del Sur, where the terrorists had been holed up in the municipal hall since last Thursday.
Meanwhile, Mr. Duterte’s spokesmen as well as his police chief dismissed speculations that the incident in Manila was a prelude to the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, going by the country’s experience with martial law under the Marcos dictatorship.
The Maute gang was also blamed for a bombing in Mr. Duterte’s home city of Davao in September that killed 15 people.
Mr. dela Rosa said the device found outside the US Embassy was similar to the bomb used in the Davao blast.
Thirteen soldiers have been injured in the fighting, military spokesman Brigadier-General Restituto F. Padilla, Jr. told reporters.
He said 19 militants had been killed, although none of those bodies had been recovered and the death toll could not be verified. Fighting continued on Monday.
Mr. Padilla supported the police theory of who was behind Monday’s attempted bombing.
“It is possible that these groups are doing this to help their fellow terrorists and divert (government) attention,” he said.
Sought for comment, US embassy spokesperson Molly R. Koscina said in an e-mail on Monday: “It’s business as usual at the United States Embassy following a bomb scare yesterday morning.” “This morning a municipal employee reported the discovery of a device to US Embassy guards, who immediately contacted the police,” she added. “We are thankful that the municipal employee and the PNP took quick and appropriate action to ensure the safety of all.” Muslim groups have waged a decades-long armed independence struggle in the south of the mainly Catholic Philippines that is believed to have claimed more than 120,000 lives.
The main rebel groups are in peace talks with the government.
But the Maute gang is one of several to have declared allegiance to IS and continued fighting. The Abu Sayyaf, infamous for kidnappings for ransoms, is another.
Leaders of the main rebel organizations have repeatedly warned that the failure of previous peace efforts, including with Duterte’s predecessor, could lead to disaffected youths joining more extreme groups such as the Maute gang.
The Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict also said last month that deepening cooperation among the Maute gang, the Abu Sayyaf and other pro-IS groups meant more deadly violence was “a matter of when, not if.” — main report by AFP, with Ian Nicolas P. Cigaral, Lucia Edna P. de Guzman, and Jumaine Christene V. Doctolero