Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has declared a “state of lawlessness” after suspected Abu Sayyaf extremists detonated a bomb that killed 14 people and wounded about 70 in his southern hometown.
Duterte, who inspected the scene of Friday night’s attack at a night market in downtown Davao city, said his declaration did not amount to an imposition of martial law but would allow troops to be deployed in urban centers to back up the police in setting up checkpoints and increasing patrols.
An Abu Sayyaf spokesman, Abu Rami, claimed responsibility for the blast near the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Davao University and a five-star hotel, but Duterte said investigators are looking at other possible suspects, including drug syndicates, which he has targeted in a bloody crackdown.
An explosion killed at least 14 people and wounded at least 24 at a night market in President Rodrigo Duterte’s hometown in the southern Philippines, a region under a heightened security alert because of a military offensive against Abu Sayyaf militants, officials said.
Police set up checkpoints in key roads leading to the city, a regional gateway about 980 kilometers (610 miles) south of Manila. TV footage showed plastic chairs strewn about at the scene of the blast, where witnesses said the bodies of some of the dead lay scattered a few hours after the explosion. Ambulance vans drove to and from the area following the blast.
Police forces in the capital Manila went on full alert at midnight following the blast. US National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said in a statement Friday that local authorities in the Philippines continue to investigate the cause of the explosion, and the United States stands ready to provide assistance to the investigation. President Barack Obama will have an opportunity to offer his personal condolences to Duterte when the two leaders plan to meet on the sidelines of a regional summit in Laos next week, Price said.
Philippine forces were on alert amid an ongoing military offensive against Abu Sayyaf extremists in southern Sulu province, which intensified last week after the militants beheaded a kidnapped villager. The militants threatened to launch an unspecified attack after the military said 30 of the gunmen were killed in the weeklong offensive.
Some commanders of the Abu Sayyaf, which is blacklisted by the United States and the Philippines as a terrorist organization for deadly bombings, ransom kidnappings and beheadings, have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.