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Philippines seeks 3 over deadly blast

DAVAO CITY: This photo taken on September 3, 2016 shows people offering prayers and flower amongst lighted candles at the site of a bomb blast, during a memorial service. — AFP
DAVAO CITY: This photo taken on September 3, 2016 shows people offering prayers and flower amongst lighted candles at the site of a bomb blast, during a memorial service. — AFP

DAVAO: Philippines police yesterday were searching for three people wanted for questioning over the bombing of a night market in President Rodrigo Duterte’s hometown blamed on an Islamic militant group. The blast, which tore through a bustling market in the heart of Davao city on Friday, killed at least 14 people and led to the president imposing a “state of lawlessness” in the country.

The head of Davao police yesterday described how a man was seen leaving a bag with the bomb inside at the market while being followed by two women. Police are searching for the three-and possibly a fourth person-over the bombing, which has been widely blamed on the Muslim extremist Abu Sayyaf group. Senior Superintendent Michael John Dubria told reporters the man had gone for a massage in the market and left the bag in that area.

“We believe the improvised explosive device exploded when the person left,” he said, adding that the two women had been following the man. Another person may have detonated the device with a cellphone, he suggested. He would not say who was behind the blast but said the bomb, using a mortar shell, was similar to those used by “threat groups” in the troubled central region of Mindanao.

There are several Muslim outlaw groups in that area, including separatist guerrillas but the Abu Sayyaf are based elsewhere, in the southern islands of Jolo and Basilan. Davao is the hometown of President Rodrigo Duterte, who had recently ordered an offensive against the Abu Sayyaf. He has said that the explosion was in retaliation for the military operation against the group in their stronghold in Jolo. However Chief Inspector Andrea De la Cerna, spokeswoman of a task force investigating the explosion, said they were not ruling out other motives for the attack.

“We have copies of the CCTV (closed-circuit television), we have eight possible witnesses but we have named no one (as suspects),” she told AFP. Duterte believes the attack was “80 percent” likely an act of terrorism, his spokesman, Martin Andanar told reporters yesterday. After the bombing, Duterte declared a national “state of lawlessness”, which his security adviser said gave the military extra powers to conduct law enforcement operations normally done only by the police. The military is continuing to press an offensive against the Abu Sayyaf in Jolo following a clash on August 29 that left 15 soldiers dead. However military spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla said that the Abu Sayyaf has since been avoiding any confrontation.

Crime crusade death toll hits 2,400

Meanwhile, the death toll from Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody anti-crime crusade has passed the 2,400 mark in the less than three months since he took office, police figures showed yesterday. However, the majority of the killings of supposed drug dealers and other criminals were not credited to the police but listed instead as “deaths under investigation”, which means vigilantes may have been responsible.

Police have killed 1,011 suspected criminals since Duterte took office at the end of June, while there were another 1,391 “deaths under investigation”, the figures showed. Duterte was elected in a landslide in May vowing to end crime and kill tens of thousands of criminals. Since then, police have shot dead several drug suspects every day while other alleged criminals have been killed by mysterious gunmen or turned up dead with crude cardboard signs labeling them drug dealers.

Police have insisted they only act in self-defense and say the other murders are carried out by drug syndicates trying to silence their members. The United Nations and rights groups have condemned the extra-judicial killings but Duterte has shrugged off the criticism and vowed to press his campaign, which includes police carrying out door-to-door searches. Last week, Duterte declared a “state of lawlessness” following a bomb blast in his southern hometown of Davao that left 14 dead. The measure gives the military extra powers to conduct operations normally done only by the police, officials have said. Opposition Congressman Edcel Lagman said yesterday that Duterte’s declaration “unduly alarms the people”, raising fears of a possible imposition of martial law.

“What has been happening unabated and with impunity are the extrajudicial killings perpetrated by police authorities and their civilian cohorts,” Lagman said. Critics of the crime war say security forces and hired assassins are carrying out mass murder, with people not involved in drugs also being killed amid a dire breakdown in the rule of law. – AFP

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