MANILA, Philippines (AP) – A bomb planted inside a backpack ripped through an airport terminal in the southern Philippines yesterday, killing at least 19 people – including an American missionary – and injuring 147 in the nation’s worst terrorist attack in three years.
The blast comes at a time of heightened debate over the role of U.S. troops in the war on terror in the Philippines, where Muslim insurgents have battled the government for decades with attacks, bombings and kidnappings.
Three Americans – a Southern Baptist missionary and her two young children – were among the wounded. Many of the injured were in serious condition, and officials feared the death toll could rise. The dead included a boy, a girl, 10 men and seven women.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who invited U.S. troops to help train Filipino soldiers in counterterrorism later this year, said the bombing at Davao airport on Mindanao island was “a brazen act of terrorism which shall not go unpunished.”
President Bush condemned the attack as a “wanton terrorist act” and sent condolences to the people of the Philippines, his press secretary, Ari Fleischer, said.
“The president notes that the bombing underscores the seriousness of the terrorist threat in the southern Philippines, and he emphasizes that the Philippines have been a stalwart partner of the United States in the war against terror,” Fleischer said.
No one claimed responsibility for the blast, but Arroyo said “several men” were detained. The military has blamed Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels for a string of attacks, including a car bombing at nearby Cotabato airport last month that killed one man.
Eid Kabalu, spokesman for the rebel group, which has been fighting for Muslim self-rule in the predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines for more than three decades, denied his group was responsible. He condemned the attack and said the group was ready to cooperate in an investigation.
Police said the bomb was hidden inside a backpack planted in the middle of the airport’s waiting area. The blast was heard three miles away; some of the debris landed on the tarmac 100 yards away.
The Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board in Richmond, Va., confirmed that missionary William P. Hyde, 59, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, died in surgery from head and leg injuries.
Hyde had gone to the airport to meet American missionaries Barbara Wallis Stevens and Mark Stevens and their family, who were had just arrived from Manila when the bomb went off.
“I just heard it explode to my side,” said Barbara Wallis Stevens, 33, of Willard, Mo., who was slightly wounded. “I was carrying my infant son so I grabbed my daughter and picked her up and ran away. I was afraid there could be more bombs.”
She said 10-month-old Nathan was hit by shrapnel in the liver. Her daughter, Sarah, was also injured but released after treatment. The family has lived in Davao for five years doing missionary work with local tribes.
Hyde, a former music teacher, had been a missionary since 1978. He and his wife Lyn have two grown sons, one of whom is a missionary in Cambodia.
David Miller, pastor of Northbrook Baptist Church in Cedar Rapids, called Hyde “kind of the teddy bear type – kind, gentle and always smiling.”
“The irony of a man that sweet and kind being killed in an act of terror and hatred is just really sad,” Miller said.”They knew that it was dangerous over there,” he added. “They were on our prayer sheet week by week for their safety.”