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Abu Sayyaf Rebels Could be Linked to Philippines Bombing - 2002-10-03

Philippine officials continue to investigate a bombing that killed two Philippine civilians and a U.S. soldier. Suspicion is falling on the Abu Sayyaf guerrilla group.

Philippine Police spokesman Colonel Leopoldo Bataoil says several Philippine government agencies are examining the bomb scene in the city of Zamboanga. He says the city, in the southern Philippines, is under a high security alert.

"The heightened alert has been declared in that area hand in hand with the red alert status of the armed forces elements, and an intensified police visibility patrol is currently ongoing," he said.

The Philippine military says that in addition to the three men who were killed, about 23 people, both civilian and military, were injured in the blast Wednesday night.

The bomb appeared to have been on a motorcycle that was parked near a small restaurant visited by soldiers from a nearby Philippine military camp.

Brigadier General Ed Purificacion, a Philippine military spokesman in Zamboanga, says its appears the motorcycle driver was also killed in the blast.

"The bomb was carried by somebody named Bernard Limba. … According to initial information, when the motor [cycle] stopped, he was trying to tinker around something in the back, so it exploded," he explained.

Both local and international news media report speculation that Abu Sayyaf rebels set the bomb. But there has been no official confirmation.

The Abu Sayyaf, which claims to be fighting for a Muslim state but is better know for brutal kidnappings, has been the target of an intense military campaign for more than a year.

Manila and Washington say the Abu Sayyaf has some links to the al-Qaida terrorist network.

The United States sent more than a thousand military personnel to the southern Philippines this year to help train the local Army to fight the rebels and deal with terrorist threats.

A few hundred U.S. soldiers have remained in the southern Philippines to work on civilian projects in the extremely impoverished area.

But there are other active insurgent groups in the Philippines that have attacked the Philippine military in the past and oppose the U.S. presence in the country. Among those groups are other Muslim separatists and, the New People's Army: communist rebels who have long opposed having U.S. soldiers in the Philippines and killed several Americans during the 1980s.