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Two arrests after Philippine bomb blast

From Maria Ressa
CNN Correspondent

GENERAL SANTOS, Philippines (CNN) -- Police have arrested two men in connection with a bomb blast that killed 14 people and wounded 55 others in the southern Philippine city of General Santos.

Police found the men, members of a Muslim extremist group, based on the description from witnesses who saw one of the men place the small, homemade bomb outside the Fit Mart department store in a mall Sunday afternoon.

Meanwhile, a bomb exploded on a boat in a small fishing village near General Santos early Monday less than two hours before Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was due to arrive from Manila.

Police found explosives powder on the boat's deck but few fragments, indicating it was not a large bomb. Police said they concluded the explosive was not intended to harm anyone -- no one was wounded -- but was more likely intended to cause panic.

Arroyo was making an impromptu visit to the city to visit some of the wounded from Sunday's explosion. It was the third bombing in the area in two days.

Video of the aftermath of a bomb blast in the Philippines that killed more than a dozen people (April 21)

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On the Scene: Maria Ressa -- Warnings preceded blasts 

Minutes after the mall blast, another explosion happened about one kilometer away in a residential part of the city.

There were no reports of injuries from that blast.

General Santos City is a largely Christian city in Mindanao, where several Muslim extremist groups have waged a battle to establish a separate homeland in Asia's only Christian nation.

A man claiming to be a member of the extremist Philippine Muslim group Abu Sayyaf told a radio station Sunday the al Qaeda-linked group was responsible for the mall bombing.

About 350 kilometers (215 miles) west of General Santos City, about 1,000 U.S. troops and army engineers are stationed on the southern Philippine island of Basilan as part of a joint effort with Philippine forces to root out terrorism.

Abu Sayyaf, which has held two Americans hostage for more than a year and is reportedly linked to al Qaeda, is one of the main targets.

About 3,000 more U.S. troops are arriving to join existing troops for training exercises set to begin Monday.

Police were investigating whether the explosions were linked to the sentencing Thursday of an Indonesian man accused of belonging to a group linked to the al Qaeda terrorist network. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

In January, police uncovered nearly 1.2 tons of explosives, believed to be intended for targets across southeast Asia.

Text messages

The explosives were uncovered when police arrested three Filipinos suspected of having al Qaeda ties.

Police, already on high alert in response to anonymous threats earlier Sunday, were searching for about 16 other possible bombs in General Santos.

Sunday morning, a bomb scare began circulating over text messages sent over cellular phones by area residents.

General Santos' regional police chief said police had received intelligence reports of bomb threats from a group called the Indigenous People's Federal Army.

That group claimed responsibility for planting several bombs last month without triggering devices in metro Manila and other Philippine cities. The group also threatened to plant more bombs.




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