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Blast Rips Through Crowd in Philippines - 2003-01-01

A blast ripped through a crowd in the southern Philippine city of Tacurong on New Year's Eve, killing nine and injuring at least thirty others. Police have not yet identified who is responsible for the attack, which comes amid heightened security for New Year celebrations. Authorities in the city of Tacurong on Mindanao island say a hand grenade was tossed into a crowd near stalls selling fireworks.

The explosion Tuesday evening killed nine people.

Alon Onting is a military spokesman in the southern Philippines. He says that investigators are trying to track down the perpetrator but he will not say if the military suspects Muslim separatists.

Observers, however, say suspicion has fallen on the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a group that many think is behind at least five attacks over the past two weeks. At least 30 people have died in those attacks. The group, also known as the MILF, has been fighting for decades to establish a separate Muslim state in the southern Philippines.

Farouk Hussin, a Muslim leader in Mindanao, says that MILF splinter groups might be trying to derail scheduled negotiations between authorities and MILF leaders. "Even among the MILF there are elements, or renegade groups, trying to sabotage the peace process," he says. "So for all we know maybe these are the groups carrying out such criminal activities."

Peace negotiations between the MILF and government were suspended in October 2001. They are set to resume in Malaysia later this month.