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Witness says bomb was placed by two women

Duterte declares ‘state of lawlessness’.

As police began their probe on the powerful explosion that killed 15 and wounded 71 in Davao City Friday, one of those wounded claimed that she saw two women place the bag that contained the bomb.

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Interviewed on radio network DZMM yesterday, Rhea Rolida said her aunt, who was recuperating from a hospital, described the chaotic scene.

The injured woman, who was not identified, said the market was filled with people eating and buying merchandise.

She noticed something unusual about two women who entered their tent. One of the women left a bag at the corner of the tent and left hurriedly. A few minutes later, the bag exploded, she claimed.

Rolida said she was in the same tent but was spared harm because there was a man in front of her when the bomb exploded. She did not elaborate.

Following the Friday attack, President Duterte declared a nationwide “state of lawlessness” yesterday.

Duterte, who inspected the scene, said his declaration did not amount to an imposition of martial law. It would allow troops to be deployed in urban centers to back up the police in setting up checkpoints and increasing patrols, he said.

An Abu Sayyaf spokesman, Abu Rami, claimed responsibility for the blast near the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Davao University and a five-star hotel, but Duterte said investigators were looking at other possible suspects, including drug syndicates, which he has targeted in a bloody crackdown.

“These are extraordinary times and I supposed that I’m authorized to allow the security forces of this country to do searches,” Duterte told reporters at the scene of the attack, asking the public to cooperate and be vigilant.

“We’re trying to cope with a crisis now. There is a crisis in this country involving drugs, extrajudicial killings and there seems to be an environment of lawless violence,” said Duterte, who served as mayor of Davao for years before elected to the presidency in June.

The attack came as forces were on alert amid an ongoing military offensive against Abu Sayyaf extremists in southern Sulu province, which intensified last week after the militants beheaded a kidnapped villager. The militants threatened to launch an unspecified attack after the military said 30 of the gunmen were killed in the weeklong offensive.

Rami, the Abu Sayyaf spokesman, is the son-in-law of Mohammad Said, an influential militant commander who used the nom de guerre Amah Maas and was killed in the ongoing Sulu offensive. Davao Vice Mayor Paulo Duterte, the president’s son, also told reporters that militants linked to the Islamic State group had threatened the progressive city.

Some commanders of the Abu Sayyaf, which is blacklisted by the United States and the Philippines as a terrorist organization for deadly bombings, ransom kidnappings and beheadings, have pledged allegiance to IS. The military, however, says there has been no evidence of a direct collaboration and militant action may have been aimed at bolstering their image after years of combat setbacks.

Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said the bomb appeared to have been made from a mortar round and doctors reported many of the victims had shrapnel wounds.

Despite the emergency, Duterte said he would proceed with trips to Brunei, Laos and Indonesia starting Sunday, but a Department of Foreign Affairs official later told The Associated Press that the Brunei leg of Duterte’s first foreign visits has been postponed. At an Asian summit in the Laotian capital of Vientiane, Duterte said in jest that most of the leaders he would meet, including President Barack Obama and Russian leader Vladimir Putin, have had a taste of terrorist attacks.

Armando Morales, a 50-year-old masseur, said the explosion threw him off his chair, adding the blast had an upward force and emitted smoke but no fireball which could have killed more people. He saw at least 10 people lying bloodied on the ground, mostly fellow masseurs and their customers.

“I helped tie their wounds to prevent blood loss,” the still-dazed Morales said. “They were pale like dead already.” (With reports from AP)