- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 5, 2003

CEBU, Philippines A powerful bomb ripped through a crowded airport waiting area yesterday in the southern Philippines, killing at least 21 persons, including an American missionary, and injuring nearly 150 others.
Officials said they were considering a link with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the al Qaeda leader in American custody who orchestrated the September 11 attacks and many other terrorist attacks in recent years.
William P. Hyde, 59, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a missionary with the Southern Baptist Convention died in surgery.
Another missionary, Barbara Wallis Stevens, 33, of Willard, Mo., was slightly injured, and her son, Nathan, 10 months, was hit in the liver by shrapnel. Her daughter, Sarah, also was injured but released after treatment.
The blast occurred at 5:23 p.m. in Davao, on the southern island of Mindanao, and sent bodies and shrapnel flying from a covered concrete waiting area where hundreds of people had gathered to take refuge from a driving rain.
An hour after the blast, ambulances were still ferrying victims to local hospitals, where blood-stained beds lined hallways.
Abu Sayyaf, the group linked to al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the blast, local television reported today.
Hamsiraji Sali, a leader of Abu Sayyaf, told ABS-CBN television that his group staged the bombing at the Davao airport.
The television station said the Abu Sayyaf apologized to the victims of the blast but was planning more bombings in the troubled south and other parts of the country to hurt the economy.
Several hours earlier, Interior Secretary Jose Lina said five members of the largest Muslim separatist group in the Philippines, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), have been held in connection with the deadly bombing.
In Washington, President Bush called the bombing a "wanton terrorist act."
"The president notes that the bombing underscores the seriousness of the terrorist threat in the southern Philippines, and he emphasizes that the Philippines have been a stalwart partner of the United States in the war against terror," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters.
The bombing came amid the deployment of 1,700 U.S. soldiers, who began arriving in the Philippines last month to assist in the struggle against Muslim terrorists. The operation is on hold as issues over American troops in combat are being ironed out.
Several suspects were being questioned late last night.
Eid Kabalu, a spokesman of the MILF, with more than 12,000 guerrillas operating in the southern Philippines, denied involvement in the blast.
But Edgar Aglipay, deputy chief of the Philippine National Police, said the group is still suspect.
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, purported to be mastermind of the September 11 terror attacks and arrested in Pakistan on Saturday, had been active in the Philippines for years.
Abu Sayyaf, founded by a brother-in-law of Osama bin Laden, says it is receiving support from Iraq.
Chief Aglipay of the national police said in a radio interview that the bomb was hidden inside a backpack left in the waiting area's concrete shelter, about 15 yards from the terminal building.
Another explosion yesterday in Tagum, a town about 30 miles from Davao, injured two persons, the military said.
Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo called the attack a "brazen act of terrorism that will not go unpunished."
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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