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Blast wounds at least 18 at restaurant in southern Philippines

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MANILA (Reuters) – A bomb exploded at a restaurant in the southern Philippines on Wednesday, wounding at least 18 people in a suspected revenge attack by a militant group, security officials said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast in the mostly Christian city of Isulan on the southern island of Mindanao, a region troubled by banditry and armed rebellions.

The bombing was suspected to be in retaliation for the killing of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a pro-Islamic State group, by government troops, Major General Cirilito Sobejana said.

“This could be an effort to avenge their losses. We have neutralised many of their members in our relentless operations,” Sobejana told reporters.

Another possible motive for the attack was an extortion letter sent to the restaurant owner last week, he said.

Government forces have in recent months pursued members of the small pro-Islamic state militant group in central Mindanao. The BIFF was blamed for a blast in August and another bombing in September in Isulan that killed five people and wounded dozens.

Islamist militants operate in the south of the largely Christian country and some are known to have links with groups abroad, including al Qaeda and Islamic State.

(Reporting by Karen Lema; editing by Darren Schuettler)

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