- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 3, 2002

CEBU, Philippines A bomb killed one American soldier and wounded another in the southern Philippines yesterday, just days after Muslim terrorists renewed threats against U.S. interests.

One Filipino also was killed and more than a dozen others injured when a bomb hidden in a parked motorcycle exploded at about 8:40 p.m. outside a karaoke club popular with soldiers in Zamboanga, a port city in the far southern reaches of the nation.

Zamboanga and the surrounding countryside is one of the bases of operation for Abu Sayyaf, a terrorist group that has kidnapped scores of Filipinos and foreigners over the past three years and killed three of its U.S. captives. The group, which is linked to the al Qaeda terror network, did not take credit for the latest attack, but military officials are focusing their initial suspicions on it.

About 270 U.S. troops have remained in the Philippines after a six-month joint training exercise ended in July, according to the Pentagon. At the height of the exercise, more than 1,000 Americans were based here, advising local troops hunting down Abu Sayyaf guerrillas around Zamboanga and on Basilan, an impoverished island farther south where the group was founded 12 years ago.

Witnesses told a local radio station that the blast occurred in front of a club run by a former Philippine soldier just outside the gate of Camp Navarro, where many of the U.S. soldiers are based. The identities of the American casualties were not released by the Pentagon, but Philippine officials said a U.S. Army master sergeant died en route to the hospital.

The blast tore the roof off of a nearby house and damaged six shops, witnesses said. Nails contained in what officials surmised was a homemade bomb were scattered throughout the area.

Despite tight security in Zamboanga since the U.S. troops arrived in January, Abu Sayyaf terrorists have had little difficulty blending into the local populace, slipping in and out of town at will. An American couple, missionaries Gracia and Martin Burnham, had been held captive by the terrorists for more than a year before a local army unit cornered the kidnappers just north of the city last June.

Mrs. Burnham was rescued after a firefight that took the lives of Mr. Burnham and a female Philippine hostage. When a flamboyant guerrilla leader, Abu Sabaya, was reported killed soon after, the government of Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared victory over the group, which had garnered tens of millions of dollars and reams of publicity with its kidnappings.

But many analysts say the group has continued to flourish in remote, Muslim-populated islands such as Basilan and Jolo.

"They know they are capable of intimidating the government," Julkipli Wadi, director of the Islamic Institute at the University of the Philippines, said in an interview. "With the ransom money, they tasted the fruits of their labor. The death of a few leaders won't cripple them. There will be new recruits, new leaders."

The majority of Filipinos are Catholics, a legacy of nearly 400 years of Spanish colonial rule. But some 5 percent of the nation's 80 million people are Muslim, largely concentrated in the south.

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