Authorities in the Philippines suspect Abu Sayyaf guerrillas are responsible for Sunday's bomb attack that killed five people. Some news reports link the blast to the arrival of U.S. military experts to conduct anti-terrorism training with Philippine troops.
Officials Monday said there is evidence the Abu Sayyaf group staged the attack in retaliation for a recent military offensive against it.
A bomb hidden in a package exploded Sunday evening at a crowded outdoor food plaza in the city of Zamboanga, 900 kilometers south of Manila. A second bomb was discovered at the site and dismantled.
Five people, including an eight-year-old girl, were killed in the blast. Of the dozens wounded, several are in serious condition.
Military authorities blame the Abu Sayyaf group for a wave of bombings in the region in recent months. The military says the blasts are a response to its offensive, which has killed scores of guerrillas. A military spokesman says the army Sunday morning killed five guerrillas, including a commander, in a clash on nearby Jolo island.
The Abu Sayyaf is fighting for an independent Islamic state in the southern Philippines. In addition to bomb attacks, they have taken dozens of hostages, including foreign tourists. Some hostages have been released in exchange for ransom. Others have been executed, including an American tourist. The rebels still hold nine Philippine workers and two American missionaries and have threatened to kill them if the Philippine military does not halt its offensive.
The Philippine government says it considers the Abu Sayyaf a criminal gang and pledges to eliminate it.
A professor of Asian Studies at the University of Philippines, Aziri Abubakar, says it is difficult for the government to negotiate with the Abu Sayyaf because of its violent methods. "It has become known mainly, for what it has been doing in the past, as an embarrassment to the Muslim communities in the Philippines, or to Islam itself," he said.
Local news reports say Sunday's bombing is tied to the arrival last week of U.S. military experts in Zamboanga. The experts are training and equipping the 7,000 Philippine soldiers fighting the guerrillas. Philippine officials say the U.S. advisers are unarmed and will not participate in any offensives.