Philippines airport bomb kills 21
Police inspect airport terminal damaged by blast Tuesday.

 U.S. soldiers secure an area as residents pass by during a recent medical mission conducted by the U.S. military in Zamboanga City.
Tuesday, March 4, 2003 Posted: 1:17 PM EST
DAVAO, Philippines -- A powerful bomb exploded at an airport in the Philippines' second largest city on Tuesday, killing at least 21 people and injuring 148.

The explosion, which destroyed the waiting area at the Davao City airport on Mindanao Island, struck at about 5.30 p.m. local time (0930 GMT).

Witnesses said there were "many, many bodies," raising fears the death toll could rise.

Among the dead was one American; three other Americans were injured, U.S. Embassy attache Ronald Post told CNN. (Full story)

An hour after the airport blast, a bomb exploded at a health center in Tagum City, 31 miles (50 kilometers) north of Davao, injuring two people, an official told CNN.

All air traffic to and from Davao International Airport -- the gateway to the restive Mindanao region -- has been suspended.

Philippines President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo condemned the airport explosion as "a brazen act of terrorism which shall not go unpunished."

She has called an emergency meeting of the Cabinet committee on internal security.

Police said the first bomb tore through a shelter outside the arrival terminal building where about 80 people had gathered to greet passengers on a plane that had just landed.

"It was a very, very loud explosion," Terry Labado, an airport official told The Associated Press. "I saw bodies flying."

"We rushed out of the building to see where the explosion happened. We saw many dead."

Disaster officials were inspecting shattered windows and a badly damaged building to determine what type of explosive was used.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but police said they had defused other bombs in the area in recent weeks.

President Bush condemned the bombing, said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, who added it "has all the earmarkings of terrorism."

"We are working closely with the government of the Philippines, who has fought valiantly in the war on terror," Fleischer said. "The United States will work shoulder-to-shoulder with the Philippine government to make certain that those responsible are brought to justice."

The explosions come at a time of uncertainty and rising tensions on the island as Manila tries to crack down on terrorism. (Neighborly pact)

In the last few weeks there have been escalating attacks between the Philippine military and rebels from the MILF, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The rebels, the largest Muslim separatist group in the south of the country, have been fighting for a Muslim homeland in this impoverished part of the Philippines for three decades. 

Despite a 1997 shaky cease-fire, fighting has occasionally flared up. Just last week, MILF rebels toppled two power transmission towers in Mindanao, blacking out the southern region.

But on Tuesday, MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu denied involvement in the airport attack and denounced both blasts.

The airport blast also comes at a time when Washington is debating whether it should send more than 1,000 troops to help fight the Islamic rebel group Abu Sayyaf in the far southern part of the island. (U.S. mulls options)

The Abu Sayyaf split from the MILF in the early 1990s and is the most violent of the Islamic separatist groups operating in the southern Philippines.

Both the Abu Sayyaf and the MILF have been linked to a sweeping alliance of militant Islamic groups in Southeast Asia with close links to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.

The groups have been accused of stirring up homegrown conflict aimed at toppling the region's secular governments in favor of Islamist states

Some U.S. special forces are training Philippine units in counter-terrorism tactics in and around the city of Zamboanga, 350 km (220 miles) west of Davao.

Davao is 609 miles (980 kilometers) south of Manila.

-- Jakarta Bureau Chief Maria Ressa, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report