MANILA - (UPDATE) The military believes a deadly department store blast in Cotabato City was a terror attack, eyeing members of a Daesh-related group as suspects.
The New Year's Eve incident has killed 2 people and injured 34 others.
"Anything that will terrorize the minds of our people is a terror attack. So I should say this is a terror attack," Maj. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, commander of the Philippine Army's 6th Infantry Division, told ANC.
Sobejana said the bomb used in the explosion bore characteristics normally associated with the terrorist organization.
"The (improvised explosive device) that exploded earlier carries the signature of a Daesh-related group," he explained. Daesh is an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.
Witnesses said they saw an individual leaving a box near a firecracker stall at the blast site, according to Sobejana. The box exploded just seconds after, he added.
Sobejana said the incident could be a form of retaliation after a military operation in Maguindanao on Thursday, December 27, left at least 7 terrorists dead.
Meanwhile, PNP chief Director-General Oscar Albayalde said he has instructed the formation of a special task force to investigate the incident.
The blast happened despite martial law being in effect in Mindanao. Sobejana said the military has been beefing up its intelligence amid reports of threats in the area.
"It's really hard for us to secure all the quarters of our areas of responsibilities," he said, reminding the public to be vigilant.
Cotabato remains in lockdown after the blast, as authorities sweep the city to make sure no other explosives are in the area as residents prepare to welcome the New Year.