Bomb attack kills 19 at airport in Philippines

Author: By Kathy Marks in Sydney

A powerful bomb in a rucksack exploded at an airport in the southern Philippines yesterday, killing at least 19 people, including an American. A boy, a girl, seven women and 10 men were among the dead. At least 147 people were wounded, and the death toll was expected to climb.

The victims were sheltering from a tropical downpour as they awaited the arrival friends and relatives at the airport in Davao, the second-biggest city in the Philippines. The crowded shelter took the full impact of the blast at 5.20pm local time.

Three Americans were seriously injured. These casualties were confirmed by the US embassy in Manila, but a spokesman declined to say whether they were tourists or in the country for other reasons. The wounded were identified as members of a Southern Baptist missionary family: Barbara Stevens, 33, her nine-month-old son, Nathan, and William Hyde, said to have multiple injuries. Davao is the gateway to the volatile Mindanao region in the Philippines’ impoverished south, where US Special Forces have been training local units in counter-terrorism tactics. Terry Labado, an airport official, said: “It was a very loud explosion. I saw bodies flying. We rushed out of the building to see where the explosion happened. We saw many dead.”

Bombs have become a depressing part of daily life in the capital, Manila, and elsewhere. The largely Christian city of Davao had escaped much of the violence that plagued the south, where government forces are fighting four rebel groups seeking an Islamic state.

Yesterday’s attack followed an agreement by the Manila government for American troops to join Philippine units fighting Abu Sayyaf, a Muslim separatist guerrilla force linked with the al-Qa’ida terrorist network. The blast demolished the shelter, 15 yards from the airport’s international terminal. Edgar Aglipay, deputy chief of the national police, told a Manila radio station it was caused by a bomb in a backpack. The injured, many hit by shrapnel, included small children. One hospital alone reported 91 casualties.

Shortly afterwards, a home-made bomb killed one person and wounded three others outside a health centre in the town of Tagum, about 18 miles north of Davao.

An airport security official said the bomb rocked the front of the terminal, smashing windows and causing considerable damage. Pieces of metal were strewn across the road. “It happened a few minutes after a Cebu Pacific [a local airline] flight arrived, and people packed the waiting area,” he said. “There were many people killed. I saw six persons killed on the spot.”

The government condemned the bomb attack, and President Gloria Arroyo called an emergency meeting of the cabinet committee on internal security. Her spokesman, Ignacio Bunye, said President Arroyo “strongly condemns the Davao bombing as a brazen act of terrorism which shall not go unpunished”.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the military has blamed the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) ? the nation’s second-biggest Muslim rebel group ? for a string of terrorist acts on the island, including a car-bombing at Cotabato airport in which one woman was killed and 10 people wounded.

The MILF denied involvement yesterday. Lieutenant-Colonel Daniel Lucero, a military spokesman, said: “We are still looking for the mastermind of this bombing attack and we are investigating the type of explosive used.”

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