Bomb Blast Near South Philippine Cathedral Kills 3

Suspected Muslim guerrillas detonated a bomb near a Roman Catholic cathedral in the southern Philippines on Sunday, killing at least three people and wounding more than two dozen others.

The bomb exploded outside the Immaculate Conception cathedral in
Cotabato city as churchgoers walked out after attending Mass. Two
passers-by were killed instantly in the attack and a third died on
the way to a hospital, said regional military commander Maj. Gen.
Alfredo Cayton.

The improvised explosive was hidden near a row of food stalls
selling roasted pig, Cayton said.

Cotabato city Mayor Muslimin Sema said up to 26 others were
wounded, some of them seriously. The wounded included five soldiers
who passed by the cathedral in an army van when the device,
fashioned from a mortar round, exploded.

TV footage showed four wounded soldiers sitting dazed on the
sidewalk and the fifth lying unconscious, face down on the seat of
their shrapnel-damaged van.

Sema said one of the suspected attackers apparently ran into the
cathedral and a police search was under way.

Two bodies lay sprawled near the sidewalk while a stunned woman
limped out of a food stall, blood dripping from her right foot.
Soldiers helped the wounded into ambulances with sirens wailing.

Army troops with assault rifles surrounded the cathedral and
cordoned off nearby streets, footage showed.

Cayton immediately blamed the 11,500-strong Moro Islamic
Liberation Front, which has been targeted by a monthslong military
offensive in nearby Maguindanao province and outlying regions.

"Nobody has the motive, the capability and the track record to
carry out this terrorist attack except the lawless MILF group,"
Cayton told The Associated Press by telephone.

There were no immediate reaction from the rebels, who have waged
a decades-long battle for self-rule in the southern Mindanao
region, homeland of minority-Muslims in this predominantly Roman
Catholic nation.

Malaysian-brokered peace talks between the government and the
rebels collapsed last year when a preliminary deal on an expanded
Muslim autonomous region fell apart, sparking new deadly clashes
that have displaced large numbers of villagers.

Cotabato city, about 545 miles (880 kilometers) south of Manila,
has been hit previously by deadly bombings blamed on Muslim rebels
and extortion gangs.

A bomb exploded at a Cotabato city bus terminal in February,
wounding two people.

A 2007 bomb blast at another terminal killed a child and wounded
36 people.

A soldier was killed in a bombing at an airport near the city of
more than 250,000 people in 2003. The attacks were also blamed on
the Muslim rebels.

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