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Rebels Suspected in Philippines Bombing

March 6, 2003

DAVAO, Philippines (AP) _ Investigators of the deadly blast at a southern Philippines airport said Thursday evidence suggests Muslim rebels planted the bomb which went off prematurely, killing the suspected bomber and 20 others, including an American missionary.

Defense department spokesman Lt. Col. Danilo Servando said a member of the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front, identified as Muntazer Sudang, 23, was among those killed in Tuesday’s explosion at Davao airport.

``What is confirmed here is he is an MILF member ... the investigators are now theorizing that he was the bomber,″ Servando said, adding the bomb may have exploded prematurely.

The MILF, which has been fighting for a separate Muslim homeland in the southern Philippines for more than three decades, has denied responsibility.

Officials said that in addition to the 21 people killed, 117 were wounded in the Philippines’ worst terrorist attack in three years.

Despite the bloodshed, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on Wednesday ruled out a combat role for U.S. troops who have been providing counterterrorism training for Philippine forces fighting Muslim insurgents on Mindanao island.

Justice Undersecretary Jose Calida said he was told by police that a pipe bomb apparently tied to a timing device was used in the blast.

Police said earlier the bomb was hidden inside a backpack planted in the middle of the airport’s crowded waiting area.

The military has blamed MILF rebels for a string of attacks, including a car bombing at nearby Cotabato airport last month that killed one man.

Arroyo, who condemned the bombing as a ``brazen act of terrorism,″ has proposed a peace agreement with the MILF, but the rebels said they will not negotiate unless government troops withdraw from a guerrilla stronghold on Mindanao island they captured last month.

Update hourly