MANILA, Philippines -- A bomb injured at least 18 people Wednesday in a southern Philippine town in an attack believed to be either an extortion attempt or retaliation by Muslim militants targeted in recent military offensives, officials said.
Regional army commander Maj. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said the bomb went off outside a small restaurant in Isulan town in Sultan Kudarant province. Unidentified people had recently tried to extort money from the restaurant owner, who refused to pay up, he said.
The attack also may have been carried out by Muslim militants belonging to the Bangsamoro Freedom Fighters who have been targeted by military offensives, Sobejana said.
The explosion injured at least 18 people, including children, and damaged chairs and tables and scattered broken glass and other debris over the floor of the restaurant.
"The owner received an extortion letter last week but it was not reported to authorities. The ultimatum (to pay) is this week," Sobejana said.
Isulan in Sultan Kudarat province has been hit by bombings by suspected Muslim militants in recent months despite tightened security in an impoverished southern region where the government and the largest Muslim rebel group are implementing a new Muslim autonomy deal. About 12,000 fighters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front are to be demobilized under the peace accord brokered by Malaysia starting this year.
The Bangsamoro Freedom Fighters and smaller allied groups which have aligned with the Islamic State group reject the peace deal and have vowed to continue fighting government forces.