Defense chief blames Islamic militants over holiday bombings

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Dec 30 2016 07:47 PM | Updated as of Dec 31 2016 12:52 AM

MANILA — Malacañang is blaming Islamic militants for bomb attacks that left 52 people injured during the mainly Catholic nation's Christmas holidays.

An explosion ripped through fight fans watching a boxing match in the central town of Hilongos in Leyte late Wednesday, while six people were hurt in a roadside bomb attack on the southern island of Mindanao the same night.

Police said 13 people were also injured in another blast outside a Catholic church during Christmas Eve mass on Mindanao on Saturday.

"It looks like they are employing diversionary tactics elsewhere to ease military pressure on them," Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters on Friday.

Two small Mindanao-based Islamic militant groups, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the Maute group, are suspected of carrying out the blasts after they formed a tactical alliance and began sharing bomb-making technology, he added.

The Bangsamoro insurgents are a breakaway faction of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the country's largest Muslim rebel group, which has been observing a ceasefire with the government.

President Rodrigo Duterte has sought to pursue peace negotiations with the MILF, while ordering a crackdown on Mindanao rebel factions that spurned his peace drive.

Like the Maute group, which has fought skirmishes with government forces in another area of Mindanao this year, the BIFF has been seen using black flags associated with Daesh fighters in Iraq and Syria, the military has said.

The third group targeted in the military crackdown is the Abu Sayyaf, blamed for bombings and kidnappings and some of whose leaders have also pledged allegiance to Daesh.

In November, Philippine police detained two suspected members of the Maute group who allegedly planted an improvised explosive device inside a garbage bin near the US embassy in Manila in an attempted bomb attack.

Earlier that month, the military blamed the group for a roadside bomb that injured seven of Duterte's military bodyguards ahead of his visit to the region.