MANILA, Philippines, (AP) – A powerful blast rocked a crowded shopping mall in Manila’s financial district Friday, killing at least eight people and wounding dozens. Police in the capital declared the highest state of alert and did not rule out a bomb.
An initial report suggested the blast was caused by a cooking gas tank in a mall restaurant, but Metropolitan Manila police chief Geary Barias later said the explosion was at the entrance of the mall and its cause was under investigation.
“It’s too early to say if it’s terrorism related,” Barias said.
In the past, Manila has been a target of Al-Qaida-linked militants, who have waged a yearslong bloody bombing campaign in the southern Philippines.
The explosion extensively damaged the Glorietta 2 shopping complex in Makati, toppling roofs, destroying walls, and sending debris crashing onto cars outside.
At least eight people died and as many as 70 others were hurt, Barias said.
“I was told by officials of the explosives and ordnance disposal division that it could be a bomb, but it’s not definite yet,” said national police chief Avelino Razon.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said in a statement she was “deeply saddened” by the incident and ordered police to investigate “and to leave no stone unturned.”
Witnesses told radio stations they saw bloodied people being helped out and carried away in ambulances. An Associated Press photographer saw four bodies covered with blankets.
Taxi driver Mario Em said he had just dropped off two women at the mall when the blast hurled them against his vehicle, killing them instantly.
He said he pulled one of the victims, who was pregnant, from underneath his car.
“The blast was so loud I lost hearing,” he said.
People inside the mall scampered toward the exits when the blast shook the mall.
“One man who was in front of me was already dead. There was a child but we don’t know where the child is now,” said witness Dennis Inigo, who was shopping at the time of the explosion.
“The man’s wife was with me a while ago, and her leg was shattered. Many people were falling on top of each other,” he said. “It was loud, and then it became dusty.”
In 2004, Abu Sayyaf militants, notorious for kidnappings and beheadings, blew up a passenger ferry in Manila Bay, killing 116 people in the country’s worst terrorist attack. The following year, four people were killed and dozens wounded when a bomb exploded on a Makati bus and two southern cities.
Several months ago, authorities were alerted to an alleged terror plot to plant bombs in Manila’s business districts of Makati and Ortigas, said a government counterterrorism official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.