April 3, 2009 / 2:47 PM / 10 years ago

Blast in southern Philippines kills 2, wounds 8

MANILA, April 3 (Reuters) - A blast near a popular fastfood chain in the southern Philippines killed two people and wounded eight others late on Friday, security officials said, blaming the attack on kidnappers with links to Islamic militants.

The explosion, believed to have been caused by a crude bomb, also damaged major power cables, cutting electricity in some parts of the capital town on Basilan island, said Salik Macapantar, provincial police chief.

"Two people were killed on the spot, including a woman," Macapantar told reporters, adding the explosive device was planted beside an electric post about 100 metres from a Roman Catholic cathedral and a popular fastfood chain.

"Most of the victims were waiting for a ride home near the restaurant," he said, adding no one had claimed responsibility for the attack.

But the military commander on the island, Rear Admiral Alexander Pama, said a small group of kidnappers with links to Muslim rebels holding three school teachers and a Sri Lankan aid worker were likely behind the attack.

"The attack could be a diversionary tactic by these rebels," Pama told Reuters, adding the military was stepping up its pursuit of the rebels holding hostages on Basilan as public attention focused on efforts to rescue kidnapped Red Cross workers on nearby Jolo island.

The military pressure forced the rebels to free early this week a 9-year-old boy who was held captive for more than three months on the same island, Pama said.

Security officials said the kidnappings on Basilan were not related to the abduction of three Red Cross workers on Jolo.

The al Qaeda-linked Islamic militant group Abu Sayyaf freed on Thursday a Filipina Red Cross worker after about 2-½ months of captivity on Jolo island, but the group continued to hold two European Red Cross workers. [ID:nMAN385538]

(Reporting by Manny Mogato; Editing by Rosemarie Francisco)

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