ZAMBOANGA CITY: A homemade bomb explosion killed three children and injured two others in the town of Al-Barka, a known stronghold of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Basilan.
Security officials were quick to blame the Abu Sayyaf for the weekend blast, saying the improvised explosive was planted in the village of Danapah.
The victims – who were playing in the area – had accidentally triggered the bomb to explode.
It was unknown how the bomb had been planted in the village undetected by security forces.
Last month, an improvised bomb explosion also killed two children in Al-Barka’s Bohe Piyang village.
Military forces are battling Abu Sayyaf rebels and foreign jihadists in Basilan, just several nautical miles from Zamboanga City.
Meanwhile, at least nine people suspected of having links with the local jihadists were detained after a raid on the compound of Mindanao State University (MSU) in Marawi City on Monday.
The policemen, backed by soldiers, also seized two improvised explosives at an apartment unit at the MSU compound.
It was unknown whether the men are members of the jihadist group led by the Maute brothers, or their supporters.
Police were investigating all the suspects while military operations continue against the jihadists in Lanao del Sur.
The military has announced that at least 15 jihadists had been killed over the weekend and that a senior leader of the Abu Sayyaf – Isnilon Hapilon – being coddled by the Maute group was also wounded in the assault in Butig town.
But the military’s claim cannot be independently confirmed, although security officials insisted the reports came from intelligence sources and civilians themselves.
Just recently, the military said a Malaysian and an Indonesian jihadist were also slain in the operations but troops failed to retrieve the bodies of the fighters.
Troops were sent to the province to hunt down Hapilon, who managed to escape a massive military operation in Basilan only to link up with the Maute group, whose leaders are brothers Otto, Abdullah and Omar Maute.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Hapilon, who is also the local chief of the Islamic State in the Philippines, was believed to have arrived in Lanao del Sur in December last year in an effort to further strengthen the unity of various jihadist groups fighting for the establishment of a strict Islamic state.
The MILF, currently negotiating peace with Philippine government, also ordered its forces to help authorities hunt down Hapilon and the Maute brothers.
President Duterte has appealed to the MILF and its rival group Moro National Liberation Front not to provide shelter to the jihadists and warned their leaders he would order the police and military to pursue the fighters inside their territories in Mindanao.
Security forces are also fighting the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, Ansarul Khilafah, Khilafah Islamiyah Movement and Al-Khobar Group, including so-called rogue MILF rebels, among other smaller groups sympathizing with the Islamic State.