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Mall bombing leaves 2 dead, nearly 30 injured in the Philippines

Click to play video: 'Bomb blast at Philippines mall kills at least two, injures more than 30' Bomb blast at Philippines mall kills at least two, injures more than 30
WATCH ABOVE: Video showed the aftermath of an explosion that killed at least two people and injured more than 30 in a suspected bomb attack at a mall in the Philippine city of Cotabato on December 31 – Dec 31, 2018

Suspected Muslim militants remotely detonated a bomb near the entrance of a mall in the southern Philippines on Monday as people did last-minute shopping ahead of New Year’s Eve celebrations, killing at least two and wounding nearly 30, officials said.

The bomb went off near a baggage counter at the entrance of the South Seas mall in Cotabato city, wounding shoppers, vendors and commuters. Authorities recovered another unexploded bomb nearby as government forces imposed a security lockdown in the city, military and police officials said.

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Maj. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said by phone that an initial investigation showed the design of the bomb was similar to those used in the past by local Muslim militants who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.

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Government forces launched an offensive against the militants belonging to a group called Daulah Islamiyah last week and at least seven of the militants died in the fighting, Sobejana said.

“This is a part of the retaliation, but the problem is they’re victimizing innocent civilians,” he told reporters.

Members of the Philippine National Police Scene of the Crime Operatives gather evidence at the site of an explosion on New Year’s Eve outside a shopping mall in Cotabato City, southern Philippines, Dec. 31, 2018. EPA/STRINGER

Supt. Romeo Galgo Jr., the deputy police director of Cotabato, said witnesses saw a man leave a box in a crowded area near the mall’s entrance where vendors and shoppers were milling. The explosion shattered glass panels and scattered debris to the street fronting the mall.

Two of the roughly 30 people hit by the blast died while being brought to a hospital, Sobejana said.

Cotabato Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi condemned the bombing and called on residents to help fight terrorism.

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“This is not just another terroristic act but an act against humanity. I cannot fathom how such evil exists in this time of merry making,” she said.

“It is unimaginable how some people can start the new year with an act of cruelty but no matter how you threaten us, the people of Cotabato are resilient. … We will stand up against terrorism,” she told reporters.

The bombing, the latest in a number of attacks blamed on militants in the volatile region, occurred despite on-and-off military assaults against pockets of militant groups operating in the marshlands and hinterlands not far from Cotabato and outlying provinces.

National Police investigators examine the site at the South Seas Mall following an explosion on New Year’s Eve in Cotabato city, southern Philippines Monday, Dec. 31, 2018. AP Photo/Rainier Canoso

Hundreds of militants aligned with the Islamic State group laid siege in the southern Islamic city of Marawi in May last year, sparking five months of intense fighting and military airstrikes that left more than 1,100 — mostly militants — dead and displaced hundreds of thousands of villagers.

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President Rodrigo Duterte placed the southern third of the country under martial law to deal with the Marawi siege, the worst security crisis he has faced since taking office in mid-2016.

The militants are opposed to a Muslim autonomy deal signed by the biggest Muslim rebel group and the government. There are concerns that radical groups may carry out bombings and other attacks to derail a Jan. 21 regional plebiscite aimed at obtaining public approval of a new law establishing a more powerful Muslim autonomous region in the south.

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