Bomb explodes in passenger bus in Philippines, wounding three

A homemade bomb exploded Wednesday in a bus in the southern Philippines, wounding three people in the latest in a series of attacks that police have blamed on an extortion gang in the region.

The bomb, set off with a cell phone, exploded shortly after all the passengers left the bus at a crowded public transport terminal in southern Tacurong city in Sultan Kudarat province, army Col. Danilo Garcia said.

The bomb badly damaged the rear portion of the bus and shattered its windows, wounding a passenger eating at a nearby food stall and two passers-by, including a child. Two elderly people fell to the ground during the blast but doctors said they were not injured, Garcia told reporters.

Acting Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales said the latest bombing was the kind of terror act that a new anti-terror law would try to stop, adding it may take some time before the law fulfills its full potential.

"The law has just been enforced," he said. "But these attacks have long been in the planning stage and part of a series of terror occurrence."

The law, signed by Arroyo in March, allows detention of suspected terrorists without charge for three days, closer surveillance of terror suspects and the proscription of known terror groups in the country's volatile south, including the violent Abu Sayyaf group.

Investigators suspected three women, who sat in the back of the bus then hurriedly got off in Tacurong may have brought the bomb on board. The bus' owner, Yellow Bus Line, had received a letter demanding money from a new extortion gang called Al-Khobar, Garcia said.

Another bus owned by the company was also bombed last month with no injuries.

Authorities have been looking into Al-Khobar, which has some ex-Muslim insurgents as members, suspecting it could have ties with al-Qaida-linked groups because of the similarity of the design of explosives they use.

Although extortion was suspected as the motive, the possible involvement of terror groups was not being ruled out, he said.

Tacurong, a predominantly Christian agricultural region 950 kilometers (590 miles) southeast of Manila, has been hit by deadly bomb attacks that have been blamed on al-Qaida-linked militants.

Following the blast, the regional police commander, Chief Superintendent Felizardo Serapio, ordered police to intensify patrols and random checks in public areas, fearing more bombings.

Last month, a bomb blast in a passenger bus killed eight people in Bansalan township in southern Davao del Sur. A nearly simultaneous explosion damaged a second bus but caused no injuries.

Both buses were owned by a company that had been threatened with attacks by Al-Khobar if it did not pay 2 million pesos (US$44,400, EUR 32,241.67) monthly to the group, police said.