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Manila Police Defuse Bomb near U.S. Embassy | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Members of the Philippine National Police Special Reaction Unit gather as part of a police visibility operation. Reuters/Romeo Ranoco

Police defused an improvised bomb in a trash bin near the U.S. embassy in the Philippine capital Monday, with militants who had declared allegiance to ISIS likely behind the attempted terrorist attack, authorities said.

A taxi passenger dropped the mortar bomb with a mobile phone detonator in the bin about 200 meters from the embassy along one of Manila’s busiest roads, but a street sweeper found it and alerted authorities, police said.

“This is an attempted act of terrorism,” national police chief Ronald dela Rosa told reporters, adding he believed the Maute militant group currently facing a military offensive in the southern Philippines was the prime suspect.

“Because of an ongoing police/military operation there, (the militants) have many casualties. We can theorize that this is a diversion to loosen our operations.”

Police said they detonated the bomb just over an hour after it was discovered.

The bomb has the same design as one used by Maute in a Sept. 2 bomb attack that killed 15 people in southern Davao city. the hometown of President Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippine police chief said.

The bombing prompted Duterte to put the nation under a “state of emergency” which allowed the military to do law enforcement with police.

His office said security measures would be increased further after the attempted bombing at the U.S. embassy, particularly at airports, seaports and other transport terminals.

The military has since Thursday been battling dozens of Maute gang members holed up in an abandoned government building in the mainly rural town of Butig on Mindanao island, about 800 kilometers south of Manila.

Thirteen soldiers have been injured in the fighting, military spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla told reporters.

He said 19 militants had been killed, although none of those bodies had been recovered and the death toll could not be verified. Fighting continued on Monday.

The Maute gang is one of several to have declared allegiance to ISIS. The Abu Sayyaf, infamous for kidnappings for ransoms, is another.

Leaders of the main rebel organizations have repeatedly warned that the failure of previous peace efforts, including with Duterte’s predecessor, could lead to disaffected youth joining more extreme groups such as the Maute gang.

The Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict also said last month that deepening cooperation among the Maute gang, the Abu Sayyaf and other pro-ISIS groups meant more deadly violence was “a matter of when, not if”.