Bomb Blast in South Philippines Kills at Least 2

A crude bomb hidden on a motorcycle
on Tuesday exploded in a port city on a southern Philippine island
where al-Qaida-linked militants are active, killing at least two
people and wounding 24, officials said.

The motorcycle was parked across from a store that was wrecked
in the early-morning blast in downtown Jolo, killing the store
owner instantly, police and the military said.

Another homemade bomb found nearby was detonated by authorities,
said Jolo Mayor Hussin Amin.

At least two were confirmed dead, but the number of fatalities
was expected to rise because many of the wounded - including two
policemen - were in critical condition, said regional military
commander Maj. Gen. Juancho Sabban.

Most of the wounded were passers-by, and authorities suspended
school classes in Jolo for fear of more attacks.

A radio report said police initially suspected the
al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf group in the explosion.

The explosion follows a bomb blast Sunday outside a Roman
Catholic cathedral in Cotabato city on the main southern island of
Mindanao, which killed six people and wounded scores others in an
attack the military blamed on the separatist Moro Islamic
Liberation Front.

The rebels denied it. They have waged a decades-long battle for
self-rule in the southern Mindanao region, homeland of 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 deadly clashes that
have displaced large numbers of villagers.

Unlike the Moro rebels, who are pursuing on-and-off talks with
the government, the Abu Sayyaf is considered a terrorist
organization because of its al-Qaida links and many terrorist
attacks, including ones on Americans.

The group and its allies, numbering about 400, have turned to
kidnappings to make money in recent years, raising concerns among
Philippine and U.S. security officials that ransom payments could
revive the group, which has been weakened by years of U.S.-backed
offensives.


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