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Muslim Separatist Group Focus of Philippine Bombing Investigation - 2003-03-06

Prosecutors in the Philippines say multiple murder charges may be filed as early as Thursday against several suspects in the deadly explosion outside Davao International Airport in the southern Philippines. Officials say the investigation is focused on a Muslim separatist group.

Philippine prosecutors say they are readying multiple murder charges against several suspects in the deadly bomb blast Tuesday at Davao airport in the southern Philippines. State prosecutors say the investigation is centered on the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) because one of its rebels was killed in the blast.

Police say the man identified as Muntazer Sudang could have been a suicide bomber or might have been killed when the pipe bomb in his backpack detonated prematurely.

Justice Undersecretary Jose Calida says the investigation will solve the question. "It could be that there was some accident, it was not intended to blow up at that time," he says. "You have to look into the nature of the wounds. If the wounds come from the back, he did not intend to blow himself up." Mr. Calida did not elaborate on the identity of suspects in custody or on the number of suspects being held.

More than 20 people were killed in the attack and many of the more than 100 injured are in critical condition in local hospitals.

The attack was the deadliest bombing in the Philippines in two-years. There have been several explosions since the military launched an offensive against the MILF last month. But the MILF has denied any involvement in the Davao attack and in recent bombings.

Another Muslim rebel group, the Abu Sayyaf, claimed responsibility for Tuesday's blast. The Abu Sayyaf is believed connected to the al Qaida terrorist network. Mr. Calida said that while the investigation is focusing on the MILF, authorities are also looking at the possible involvement of foreign terrorists.

Foreign intelligence reports have linked the MILF to the Muslim extremist group, Jemaah Islamiyah, which is active throughout Asia. Until the military began its offensive in rebel strongholds last month, the MILF was in peace talks with the government in an effort to end more than 30-years of separatist conflict in the south.