Manila, Aug 24 (efe-epa).- At least nine people died on Monday and around 20 were injured in two separate blasts in the center of Jolo, the capital of restive Sulu province, preliminary police reports said.
The first of the two explosions occurred shortly before midday on Monday on a central Jolo square after a motorcycle that was parked close to an Army truck distributing food aid was blown up.
The second followed an hour later about 70 meters from the site of the first detonation as emergency responders were cordoning off the scene, local media report.
A joint Sulu Police-Army task force is operating on the basis of a terror attack and has already deployed troops in the area to track down potential assailants.
The head of the Army’s Western Mindanao Command, General Corleto Vinluan, said that five of the nine confirmed fatalities were soldiers, adding that at least 18 of his troops had been wounded.
Jolo, which is part of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, was the site of two huge bomb explosions in January 2019 in an attack by foreign militants coordinated by Abu Sayyaf, a Muslim Filipino group affiliated with the Islamic State.
That attack, which targeted a cathedral during Sunday mass, which left 21 people dead – in addition to the two suicide bombers – and more than 100 wounded, was the deadliest to hit the restive southern Philippines in years.
Abu Sayyaf, which pledged its allegiance to the Islamic State in 2014, was founded in the 1990s on the neighboring island of Basilan, and has carried out several attacks and kidnappings of foreigners.
The twin blasts on Monday came as the European Union announced a $29 million grant to implement the peace deal signed for Bangsamora, the autonomous Muslim region that was formally established in 2019 as part of negotiations between the Philippine government and the rebels of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), who laid down their weapons in exchange for heading the transitional government of that new Muslim region with about four million inhabitants, until elections are held in 2022.
So far, 30 percent of the 40,000 fighters of the MILF, the country’s largest Muslim armed group, have been demobilized.
But there remain radicalized Islamist cells in Mindanao that have sworn allegiance to the Islamic State terror group, including Abu Sayyaf, although they were greatly weakened after being defeated by the Philippine army in Marawi, a city they occupied in May 2017 and from which they were expelled after five months of fierce fighting in which nearly 1,000 militants died. EFE-EPA