x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Bomb blasts hit Philippine city

Two people died and 48 were wounded when two bombs exploded in a busy department store in the Philippines.

MANILA, Philippines // Two crude bombs packed with nails exploded minutes apart today at a department store and a nearby clothing shop packed with Christmas shoppers in the southern Philippines, killing two people and wounding 48, officials said. No one has claimed responsibility for the blasts in Iligan, a predominantly Christian city, but officials have blamed Muslim rebels for similar attacks in the volatile region in the past few months. The homemade bombs were both placed at the baggage counters of the two stores, which are about 100 feet (30 metres) apart, said Iligan city police chief Virgilio Ranes. Two workers were killed and 48 people were wounded, including two in critical condition, hospital officials said. Roger Alforque said his wife was handing some belongings to an attendant at the baggage counter of the Uni City department store in Iligan's busy downtown area when an explosion rocked the counter. The blast sounded like a powerful firecracker "but it caused a lot of damage," he said by telephone from an Iligan hospital. The blast knocked his wife unconscious and wounded him and his 10-year-old daughter. The president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who is scheduled to visit Iligan tomorrow to inaugurate a vinegar processing plant, condemned the bombings. "The government will not stop hunting these terrorists until they are put behind bars," Ms Arroyo's spokesman Anthony Golez said. Iligan Mayor Lawrence Cruz said security cameras at one store captured images of a man and woman suspected of depositing the bag that contained the bomb. He said the city government in the past two weeks received threats warning of bombings in Iligan's shopping malls and other public areas. Mr Ranes said police have been on alert for months in Iligan, about 780km south-east of Manila, due to threats from Muslim rebels. Sporadic clashes between government troops and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, an 11,000-strong rebel group fighting for self-rule in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation's south, erupted in August after the country's top court scrapped a preliminary accord on an expanded Muslim autonomous region. More than 100 civilians and dozens of combatants have been killed. Rebel spokesman Eid Kabalu condemned the attacks and said the government should investigate the blasts before blaming Muslim guerrillas. "We condemn this to the highest degree," he said. "We won't pursue our cause by killing innocent people." Officials of Iligan, an industrial hub of more than 300,000 people, have strongly objected to a plan to annex a part of their city to the Muslim region. The government has subsequently put peace talks on hold, although it recently indicated it was ready to restart negotiations.