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Philippines president: Explosion that killed 15 was act of terrorism

By Tim Hume, Christina Zdanowicz and Ralph Ellis CNN

(CNN) -- Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said an explosion in Davao City that killed at least 15 people Friday night was an act of terrorism and he placed the country on lockdown, the official Philippines News Agency reported.

About 69 people were hurt in the explosion that happened around 10 p.m. Friday (10 a.m. ET) at the Roxas night market near Ateneo de Davao University, said Chief Inspector Catherine Dela Rey, spokeswoman for Davao City Police.

The market is known to attract thousands.

Duterte authorized the police and military to search cars and frisk people at checkpoints, the PNA said. He put the nation under a "state of lawlessness," saying he has not declared martial law and has not suspended the writ of habeas corpus.

"We have to confront the ugly head of terrorism," Duterte said, standing near the explosion site on Roxas Avenue in Davao City, his hometown. "We will take this as a police matter about terrorism."

No group has claimed responsibility, but Duterte said it's possible the explosion "could be a reprisal" from extremists.

'This is not a fascist state'

Presidential spokesman Martin Andanar mentioned the possible involvement of the Islamist militant Abu Sayyaf group or drug lords, according to CNN affiliate ABS-CBN.

Duterte campaigned on a no-nonsense approach to crime and the Philippine Daily Inquirer's "Kill List" -- regarded as one of the most accurate records of the killings of suspected drug dealers by police and vigilantes -- has recorded 832 deaths since Duterte assumed office June 30.

Police say at least 239 drug suspects were killed in the three weeks after Duterte's inauguration.

And government troops have been battling Abu Sayyaf, which remains outside the country's sputtering peace process.

Andanar said components of a suspected improved explosive device were found at the scene of the explosion, according to ABS-CBN.

Duterte people should submit to searches and frisking at checkpoints.

"We know that this is not a fascist state. I cannot control the movement of the citizens of the city and every Filipino has the right to enter and leave Davao. It is unfortunate we cannot stop and frisk anybody for just any reason," he said.

'I am really scared'

Leonor Rala, a 19-year-old medical technology student at San Pedro College, told CNN she was in her dorm and about to go to bed when she heard an explosion.

She said she initially thought something had fallen on the roof of a neighboring building. She then went down to survey the scene of the blast, about 100 yards from her dorm. Emergency teams were already in place.

"I am really scared to go out," she said. "The roads are closed and nobody's allowed to go out of the city. There are bomb threats everywhere and some of my schoolmates are victims of the explosion and now dead."

She continued: "We're very terrified because Davao City was known to be the safest city in the Philippines and a situation like this is very rare."

Witness Janoz Laquihon told CNN Philippines he was at the scene when the explosion happened.

"I saw some smoke. I thought it's just barbecue. A few minutes later ... a big blast."

Witness Father Jboy Gonzales told CNN Philippines that he saw more than 30 people being loaded onto ambulances.

"[A] lot of people are wounded, shocked, traumatized," he said.

Davao City Government tweeted on its official account: "Let us pray for the victims of this unfortunate incident, especially for those who died."

Duterte made his name in politics as the mayor of Davao City. His term in office was noted for his hardline stance on drug crime that he has now incorporated into his national policies. It has resulted in more than 1,900 people being killed in a crackdown, which has drawn criticism at home and abroad.

Maria Ressa, executive editor of Philippines news website Rappler, said the blast occurred amid tensions surrounding Duterte's war on drugs, as well as an ongoing peace process with Muslim militants in the southern Philippines.

CNN's Roba Alhenawi, Merieme Arif, Steve Visser and Lonzo Cook contributed to this report.

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