x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Bus bomb in Philippines kills eight

The explosion, which hit the bus while it was carrying more than 50 passengers, has been blamed on an extortion gang with links to Muslim militants.

MANILA // A bomb has ripped through a passenger bus in the southern Philippines, killing at least eight people and wounding 10 in an attack authorities blamed on an extortion gang with links to Muslim militants.

The bus was travelling with more than 50 passengers when the powerful blast shook the rear part of the vehicle from the overhead compartment, police chief Supt Gil Meneses said. The force of the blast was so strong it decapitated two of the victims, he said.

The wounded were brought to hospitals near Matalam township in North Cotabato province. Police and army units interviewed survivors and combed through the twisted metal trying to extract the injured, Supt Meneses said.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing. The south of the Philippines is home to kidnappers, extortion gangs and a decades-old Muslim insurgency.

Military spokesman Lt Col Randolph Cabangbang said authorities suspect the Al-Khobar extortion gang in the attack, saying the bus company involved in the bombing had been targeted for extortion in the past.

Al-Khobar is the most notorious of the region's extortion gangs, and authorities say it is made up of criminals and former Muslim rebels who have been blamed for attacking business establishments refusing to pay their ransom demands. The group is on a US list of terrorist organisations.

In April last year, two homemade bombs exploded hours apart on one bus, wounding the conductor and five passengers. A bomb exploded at a Cotabato city bus terminal in February the same year, wounding two people.

Troops last year captured a suspected Al-Khobar leader, Mokasid Dilna, who allegedly trained with militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the 1990s. Military officials said he provided refuge to foreign militants and acted as a link with two local Muslim groups - the violent Abu Sayyaf and the larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which has been engaged in peace talks with the government.

Mohagher Iqbal, the chief negotiator for the Moro rebels, said his group had no involvement in today's bombing.

"We have forces there, but not along the highway," he said. "We will never get involved in matters like that."

He said the bombing could be a result of business rivalry or extortion.