- The Washington Times - Monday, April 22, 2002

MANILA, Philippines Three explosions ripped through a major city in the southern Philippines yesterday, killing at least 14 persons and injuring 45 others after a radio-station caller warned of a wave of bombings.
The caller claimed to be from the Muslim extremist group Abu Sayyaf, which has been holding an American missionary couple for nearly 11 months and is the target of a U.S.-backed military campaign as part of Washington's war on terrorism.
One bomb exploded outside a busy department store in the city of General Santos, killing at least 14 persons four of them children in a hail of shrapnel and flying glass.
Within 40 minutes, bombs went off near a radio station and a bus terminal in the largely Christian city of 800,000 in the Mindanao region, where Islamic militants have been fighting for an independent homeland.
The scene of blood, wreckage and shattered glass was reminiscent of five nearly simultaneous bombings in Manila 16 months ago that killed 22 persons. An Indonesian man who has claimed he planned those blasts pleaded guilty Thursday in General Santos to explosives possession after leading police to a buried cache of more than a ton of TNT, detonating cords and M-16 rifles.
Police said it was too early to accuse any specific group of carrying out yesterday's bombings, blaming only "terrorists."
But a Radio Mindanao Network office in nearby Koronadal said it received a call an hour before the first blast from a man who earlier had called to complain about police boasts that the city was safe from terrorists. The man asked whether the station wanted to cover bombings later in the day.
A separate warning circulated via cell phone text message a chief method of communications in the Philippines said 18 bombs had been planted around the city and would start exploding after lunch.
Police said they received an anonymous call with the same claim but did not say what measures they took. Bomb threats are common in the Philippines.
Radio station manager Elmer Ubaldo said he decided not to air the warning because he did not want to cause panic. The caller identified himself as Abu Muslim Ghazie and said he represented al Harakatul al-Islamiyah, the formal name used by Abu Sayyaf. Other spokesmen for the group said they had no knowledge of Abu Sayyaf involvement.
The Abu Sayyaf, believed to have ties to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, and the fundamentalist Moro Islamic Liberation Front have been blamed for setting off bombs in General Santos in the past.
The city is about 130 miles from Basilan island, where the Abu Sayyaf has been holding Martin and Gracia Burnham of Wichita, Kan., and Filipina nurse Ediborah Yap for nearly 11 months. About 160 U.S. Special Forces troops are on the island on a six-month counterterrorism training mission.


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