Bomb Kills 20, Including an American, at Philippines Airport

An injured man being treated after an explosion at Davao airport , Philippines.

Police inspect the front terminal at Davao city International Airport.
Tuesday, March 04, 2003         FOX-News/AP

DAVAO, Philippines  At least 20 people, including an American, were killed Tuesday when a powerful explosion ripped through a waiting area at the Davao City International Airport in the southern Philippines.

More than 150 others -- including three Americans from a Southern Baptist missionary family -- were wounded.

The bomb, which was hidden in a backpack, exploded just outside the airport's arrival terminal.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo called the bombing a "brazen act of terrorism" and said police had detained "several men" in connection with the blast. She ordered police and the military "to hunt down the bombers and their accomplices."

The U.S. Embassy in Manila confirmed that an American had died. The Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board in Richmond, Va., identified the victim as a missionary -- William P. Hyde, 59, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

A boy, a girl, nine men and seven women were among the other fatalities, officials said.

With many of the injured in serious condition, officials feared the death toll could rise.

In Washington, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the explosion had "all the earmarkings of terrorism."

"The president condemns the bombing in the Philippines this morning. We are working closely with the Philippine government, which has fought valiantly in the war on terror," Fleischer told reporters.

Arroyo called an emergency meeting of the Cabinet oversight committee on internal security later Tuesday.

No one claimed responsibility for the blast on the main southern island of Mindanao. But the military has blamed Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels for a string of recent attacks, including a car-bombing that killed a woman last month at nearby Cotabato airport.

The MILF -- which, until recently, was involved in peace negotiations -- in turn blamed those attacks on the much smaller and more radical Abu Sayyaf group, which may be linked to Al Qaeda and which has also kidnapped and killed Western tourists in the Philippines and Malaysia.

MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu denied his group was responsible for Tuesday's airport bombing. He condemned the attack and said the MILF was ready to cooperate in an investigation.

The airport explosion occurred at 5:20 p.m. local time as dozens of people waited for a plane to arrive. About 2.2 pounds of C-4 explosive was believed to have been used in the bomb, Davao civil defense spokeswoman Susan Madrid said.

"It was a very, very loud explosion," said Terry Labado, an airport official. "I saw bodies flying."

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

An airport security official said the bomb rocked the front of the terminal building, smashing windows and causing considerable damage. TV footage showed the waiting stand in front of the terminal building wrecked by the blast, and pieces of metal strewn on the road.

"It happened ... a few minutes after a Cebu Pacific flight arrived and people packed the waiting area. There were many people killed. I saw six persons killed on the spot," the official said.

Hyde, who had been waiting to pick up the missionary family returning from a trip, died in surgery from severe head and leg injuries at Davao Medical Center, said Dr. Manuel Tan.

The Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board said Hyde worked in church leadership development. He is survived by his wife, Lyn, and two grown sons.

Two other Americans, Barbara Stevens, 33, and her 9-month-old son Nathan, were also brought to Davao Doctors Hospital, hospital staff said. Stevens' husband escaped injury.

Stevens said in a telephone interview from the hospital that her family, who are Southern Baptist missionaries, had just arrived from Manila when the bomb went off.

"I just heard it explode to my side," she said. "I was carrying my infant son, so I grabbed my daughter and picked her up and ran away. I was afraid there could be more bombs."

She said her son was hit by shrapnel in the liver. Her daughter Sarah was injured but released to their Davao residence.

"Our hearts go out to these families and their co-workers," said a statement issued by Southern Baptist spokesman Larry Cox. "We are moving quickly to assist the missionaries affected by this tragedy."

Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte ordered all pharmacies and drug stores to remain open to supply medicine to the victims.

Flights to and from Davao were suspended.

In a separate incident Tuesday, an explosion in Tagum, north of Davao, injured two people, said military spokesman Lt. Col. Daniel Lucero. He gave no other details.

Fox News learned that authorities confirmed one fatality in the Tagum blast, and three others were reported injured. Reports say the explosion occurred around 6:15 p.m., just minutes after the blast at the airport.

The Moro rebels have been fighting for a separate Muslim homeland in the impoverished southern Philippines for three decades. Despite a 1997 shaky cease-fire, fighting has occasionally flared up.

American troops went to the Philippines last year as their first expansion of the war on terrorism outside the fight with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Some 1,200, including 160 special forces, were sent to the country in what officials said was a mission to "train, advise and assist" Filipino forces battling Abu Sayyaf rebels on the island of Basilan.

Last month, U.S. defense officials announced they had an agreement to deploy more than 1,000 U.S. troops to the island of Jolo in an effort to rout Abu Sayyaf forces.

The Jolo offensive was put on hold after Pentagon officials described the deployment as "joint operations" that would have drawn Americans into battle. Many Filipinos objected to the troops having a combat role.

That wording caused an uproar in the Philippines. Newspapers, lawmakers and left-wing groups accused the government in Manila of violating the constitution, which bars foreign troops from combat in the former U.S. colony.

Manila repeatedly denied there would be a U.S. combat role, saying Americans were coming for a training exercise.

The Abu Sayyaf broke away from the largest Muslim political group, the Moro National Liberation Front, in 1991. The MNLF signed a peace treaty with the government in 1996 and became a legitimate political party.

The MILF, the larger of the two Islamic groups still fighting, broke away from the MNLF in 1978 and recent reports indicate that it and the Abu Sayyaf have formed an alliance.

In addition to the two Islamic groups, a communist group, the New People's Army, has been fighting a guerrilla war against the government on Mindanao for over 30 years, and there are some indications the NPA has forged a tactical alliance with either or both of the Islamic groups.

Fox News' Mike Cohen and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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