President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ordered tight security Monday for the southern Philippine city of General Santos, a day after a series of bomb explosions ripped through the city killing 14 people.
Police questioned two men suspected of belonging to the Muslim separatist group Moro Islamic Liberation Front, in connection with the deadly bombings. But a man claiming to be a spokesman for another Muslim guerilla group, the Abu Sayyaf, told a local radio station his group was responsible for the bombings and warned of more to come if U.S. soldiers did not leave the country immediately.
Since February, U.S. Special Forces have been training Philippine troops in the largely Muslim Philippine island of Basilan to combat the Abu Sayyaf, which Washington has linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network. The group, which has earned millions of dollars from a series of kidnap-for-ransom activities involving foreigners, has been holding an American missionary couple and a Philippine nurse captive for nearly 11 months now. Other Abu Sayyaf members claim they have no knowledge of the bomb attacks in the mostly Christian city of General Santos, located 350 kilometers east of Basilan.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo visited General Santos Monday and pledged an all-out war on the Abu Sayyaf. During a tour of the devastated city, she called the bombings a "crime against the Filipino people." A small bomb exploded on a fishing boat outside the city, as Mrs. Arroyo was meeting with the mayor.
Around 85 percent of the 76 million people who live in the Philippines are Christian, while only around five million are Muslim. Several Islamic groups have been fighting for independence for several decades, but the Abu Sayyaf has been the most violent and brutal, beheading several of their hostages.