Van bomb kills at least 11 in suspected militant attack

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Eleven people have been killed after a bomb-laden van driven by a suspected Abu Sayyaf militant blew up in the southern Philippines.

A soldier, five local militiamen and the driver were among the dead after a brazen attack that reignited terrorism fears in the region.

Military spokesman Lt Col Gerry Besana said six army scout rangers and another militiaman were wounded in the explosion after dawn outside an army outpost in Lamitan city.

Police inspect a vehicle at a military checkpoint where the bomb exploded
Road checkpoints have been set up (AP Photo/Christine Garcia)

Lt Col Besana said of the driver: “If he triggered the bomb, he was probably waiting for a more opportune time to inflict harm on a bigger number of people.

“That’s their death wish – the more, the merrier.”

The Philippine government condemned the terrorist attack, calling it a “war crime”.

An inspection of the bomb site
Government forces inspect the site of the blast (AP)

Militiaman Gregorio Inso, who survived but lost his wife in the blast, said the van was flagged down for inspection by his colleagues outside the militia outpost.

When the driver apparently wanted to restart the engine, the militiamen looked inside and saw suspicious strands of wire inside the van and called a group of scout rangers.

“When the rangers were approaching, the vehicle suddenly exploded,” Mr Inso said. “When I looked again, everyone was dead.”

The aftermath of the blast
The blast has raised fears of terrorist activity in the southern Philippines (AP)

Government forces have also been put on alert in the south, the scene of decades-long Muslim separatist unrest, after President Rodrigo Duterte signed a new autonomy agreement last week with the biggest Muslim rebel group in the country.

The peace deal has been opposed by much smaller but violent extremist bands like Abu Sayyaf and others which have aligned themselves with Islamic State (IS).

The country’s south remains under martial law, which Mr Duterte declared last year to deal with a five-month siege by IS-linked militants in southern Marawi city that left more than 1,200 mostly militants dead, displaced hundreds of thousands of villagers and sparked fears that IS is gaining a foothold in south-east Asia as it faces defeat in Syria and Iraq.

Abu Sayyaf, which was founded in the late 1980s in Basilan, has been blacklisted by the US and the Philippines for bombings, ransom kidnappings and beheadings. It has been weakened by government offensives but remains a national security threat.

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