ZAMBOANGA, Philippines (AP) — A Philippine governor who led a military campaign against Muslim militants said Friday he believed he was the target of a bombing at a southern airport that grazed him and killed two other people, including one of the attackers.
About two dozen other people were wounded, one seriously, late Thursday when the blast ripped through the arrival gate as passengers — including Sulu Gov. Sakur Tan — were leaving the Zamboanga city airport.
Police said one of two assailants was carrying the explosives in his backpack, and they were investigating whether they went off prematurely or were triggered remotely. There is no history of suicide bombings in the Philippines, which has grappled with a decadeslong Muslim insurgency in the country’s restive south.
Police did not immediately provide any details about the second suspected attacker.
U.S. Ambassador Harry Thomas, who was supposed to visit Zamboanga on Friday, said he postponed the trip because it would be a burden to security personnel investigating the attack. He offered U.S. assistance in the probe.
“I deplore this heinous crime that victimized ordinary travelers,” Thomas said in a statement. He had been due to fly to the airport.
Zamboanga, a major economic and transport hub on southern Mindanao Island, has been targeted before in bombings by the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf group, which is notorious for kidnappings and beheadings. It is on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations, and the U.S. military has deployed special forces to the region to help train and arm Filipino troops fighting the militants.
Tan, governor of Sulu island province — an Abu Sayyaf stronghold south of Zamboanga — sustained a small wound near his ribs when the blast went off as he and other passengers disembarked from a plane arriving from Manila, about 540 miles (860 kilometers) north of Zamboanga. He was later discharged from hospital.
“I believe I was the target,” Tan told reporters, saying the device went off just a yard (meter) away from him. “I saw the flash very clearly.”
An enemy of the Abu Sayyaf militants, he has been targeted before. He escaped unharmed when a bomb-rigged motorcycle exploded near his convoy in Sulu in May last year. A town mayor and at least three security escorts were wounded in that attack.
On Friday, Tan suggested his political rivals could be connected to terrorists but did not elaborate. “I have received intelligence reports that I would be bombed again, in Zamboanga or Sulu or Manila. Not only bombed, they may even use a rocket-propelled grenade,” he said.
Newly elected President Benigno Aquino III, facing his first security crisis since assuming office in June, condemned the violence and ordered authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice, said his spokesman, Edwin Lacierda.