MANILA, Dec. 31 (Xinhua) -- At least two people were killed and 21 others wounded, including a four-year-old girl, when an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded on Monday afternoon near the entrance of a mall in Cotabato City in the southern Philippines.

Philippine military and police authorities said the explosion happened around 1:59 p.m. local time in front of a major mall, as hundreds of people were shopping for the New Year's Eve revelry.

The blast went off near the baggage counter outside the mall, Guerlie Frondoza, a staff of the Cotabato city government told Xinhua.

Major general Cirilito Sobejana, commander of the Philippine Army's 6th Infantry Division, said the explosion killed two people and injured 21 others.

Cotabato city police said an unidentified man dropped a wrapped box in the area shortly before the explosion.
The victims were rushed to the nearest hospital, according to local police.

Sobejana said another unexploded IED was recovered from the site after the explosion, adding that the police are investigating the incident and trying to identify the type of IED used by the perpetrators.

Sobejana said the military and police were still determining the suspects but they knew that some local extremist groups are trying to sow terror on the city.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack so far.

Southern Philippines has been the hotbed of violent extremism and has seen a brewing rebellion for decades. In more recent years, the area witnessed more violence such as the siege of Marawi city and bombings in major cities.

On Dec. 12, the Philippine Congress approved a further extension of martial law in the southern Philippines until the end of 2019 to quell a continuing rebellion in the region.