MANILA >> A bomber who killed two people and wounded 35 at a town festival in the southern Philippines offered fruit to people in hopes of evading suspicion when he abandoned the bag that also contained the bomb, a Philippine military commander said Wednesday.
Wary residents still alerted police when the man hurriedly left the bag under a parked motorcycle near a night market, Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana told The Associated Press by telephone. Troops chased the man when villagers pointed to him but he fled on a motorcycle that had its engine already running in the chaos caused by the explosion Tuesday night in Isulan town in Sultan Kudarat province.
“The man offered rambutan and other fruits as a diversion, to make it appear the content of his bag was harmless,” Sobejana said. The bomb was made from a water pump, which shattered and blew steel fragments and motorcycle parts toward the night-market crowd, he said.
The death toll rose to two, and the commander said at least one of those wounded in the bombing was in serious condition. The rest of Isulan’s founding anniversary festival was canceled, and authorities planned to meet Wednesday to discuss ways to strengthen the town’s security, Sobejana said.
The bomber remained at large, and no group has claimed responsibility for the attack. Authorities suspect a small armed group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, which is aligned with the Islamic State group.
Philippine troops in the restive south have been on alert in recent weeks based on military intelligence that Muslim militants, suffering setbacks from battles with government forces, planned to carry out bombings in public areas.
A vehicle bombing on July 31 in southern Basilan province killed 11 people, including the suspected foreign militant who drove the vehicle. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility and identified the attacker as Moroccan. However, it cited a greatly inflated military death toll.