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COTABATO, Philippines (AP) _ A homemade bomb exploded Thursday in a crowded public market in the southern Philippines, injuring nine people in a region on alert for possible attacks from Muslim rebels and extortion gangs, officials said.

Those injured in the mid-afternoon blast in Midsayap town in North Cotabato province included a policeman, a militiaman, a child and shoppers at the market, Vice Mayor Manuel Rabara said.

One of the injured was hit in the head by nails packed in the bomb and was hospitalized in serious condition, Rabara said.

An unidentified man brought the bomb in a gift-wrapped box to a store and left it there after drinking a soft drink. A militiaman became suspicious when the box emitted a wisp of smoke and rushed to put the package in the middle of a road, where it went off, Rabara said.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

Rabara said police have been on alert in recent weeks after several businessmen in Midsayap, a farming town about 570 miles south of Manila, received threats from extortion gangs.

Muslim separatist guerrillas belonging to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which is engaged in peace talks with the government, have also carried out a number of attacks in North Cotabato, a predominantly Christian town led by a governor who is a vocal opponent of the rebels.

Also Thursday, an explosion at a hotel in the city of Davao nearly severed the legs of a British man who had been staying there. The explosion also started a fire that damaged part of the building, officials said.

Regional Philippine National Police Chief Supt. Eduardo Matillano said the blast victim, 65-year-old Michael Mairing, was staying at the hotel while hunting lost for treasure in the southern Philippines.

Treasure hunters and small-time gold miners occasionally use explosives in their work, but Matillano said the cause of the explosion wasn't immediately clear.

The Philippines attracts many fortune-seekers with rumors of gold lost during the Japanese occupation in World War II.