A powerful explosion killed seven people and wounded nine more in the province of Basilan, the military said on Wednesday.

Capt. Jefferson Somera, a spokesman for the 1st Infantry Division, said the blast was caused by an improvised explosive planted outside the house of a pro-government militia identified as Manuel Cisneros in the village of Tumahubong in Sumisip town.

He said the explosion occurred during the New Year party of Cisneros.

“It was a powerful explosion and the blast killed seven people, including a child, and wounded nine others. We are investigating the attack and the group behind it,” Somera told The Manila Times.

No individual or group claimed responsibility for the attack, but rebel groups are operating in Basilan, one of five provinces under the Muslim autonomous region.

The explosion occurred despite a tight security being implemented by the police and military in the province for the yuletide season. Basilan has been previously bombed many times by rebels.

Basilan is a known hotbed of the Abu Sayyaf, an Al Qaeda-linked group blamed for the country’s worst terrorist attacks.

Police said the motive for the attack was not clear, although Cisneros had apparently been helping protect rubber plantation workers from extortion by armed gangs including the Abu Sayyaf.

“We suspect it was the Abu Sayyaf,” provincial police chief S/Supt Mario Dapilloza said over DZBB radio in Manila.

However, investigators were also considering the possibility of an accidental explosion involving a grenade carried around by the militiaman.

Last year, Abu Sayyaf gunmen ambushed a convoy carrying plantation workers, killing six and wounding 22 in the same area.

Authorities said an Abu Sayyaf faction on a nearby island was believed still to hold a number of foreign as well as Filipino hostages, including two European birdwatchers and a Japanese treasure hunter.

In December, a Jordanian TV reporter held in captivity for 18 months claimed to have escaped from his captors.

Elsewhere in the south Tuesday, five civilians were wounded when gunmen aboard a motorcycle lobbed a grenade outside a church in the town of Carmen on Mindanao Island.

The victims were about to attend mass.

Local Mayor Rogelio Talino said it was not clear whether they were targeted or whether it was a random attack.

Muslim rebels negotiating peace with the government as well as other armed factions are known to operate in the area, the police and military said.



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