At least 14 people have been killed and several others wounded after two explosions, including one reportedly carried out by a female suicide bomber, struck the southern Philippine town of Jolo, according to the authorities.
Philippine Red Cross Chief Richard Gordon said the first explosion hit at approximately noon (04:00 GMT) on Monday in the capital of Sulu, one of the country’s southernmost provinces.
Gordon, who is also a senator, said a motorcycle loaded with improvised explosive device went off near a military truck. The Red Cross office in Jolo is located near the site of the blast.
According to news reports, as authorities were cordoning off the area, a second explosion was reportedly carried out by a female suicide bomber.
“A female suicide bomber detonated herself as a soldier stopped her from entering the cordoned area,” Lieutenant Colonel Ronaldo Mateo, an army spokesman told Manila radio station DZMM.
In total, eight members of the security forces, six civilians and the bomber were killed in the two blasts, while 27 security personnel and 48 civilians were wounded.
Jolo is one of a chain of mainly Muslim islands in the southwest of the majority Roman Catholic country.
The blasts happened not far from the site of a major explosion that killed more than 20 people inside a Catholic church in early 2019, according to state-run PTV channel.
Images posted by PTV on social media on Monday showed debris and bodies lying on a street next to a military vehicle.
Monday’s incident was one of at least six suicide bombings in the past three years, a mode of attack previously rare in the Philippines.
Island stronghold of Abu Sayyaf Group
There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
In a statement, Philippine police chief General Archie Francisco Gamboa said he has ordered an investigation into the deadly incident.
Sulu is known as the stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf Group, an armed group that has allied itself with ISIL (ISIS).
Abu Sayyaf has long been battling for independence in the southern region of Mindanao, which they regard as their ancestral homeland dating back to the pre-Spanish colonial period.
The group is notorious for kidnappings, robberies and deadly bombings.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the explosion incidents in Jolo,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.
“Authorities are now conducting an investigation, which includes identifying individuals or groups behind these dastardly attacks.”
In June, four soldiers were killed in Jolo following an alleged confrontation with police officers, igniting tensions between the two government forces.
The soldiers were reportedly pursuing suspected armed fighters, when they were stopped by police leading to the deadly incident.
Earlier on Monday, Major Gen Vinluan, a military commander in Mindanao, told senators in Manila that it is “possible” that the police officers involved in the shooting may be related by blood to the Abu Sayyaf suspects pursued by the military.
“That is possible, because almost everyone are related to each other in Sulu. There are ASG [Abu Sayyaf Group] who have relatives in the police force … Sulu is small.”