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Airport bomb: Islamic group blamed

The airport was a scene of devastation.
The airport was a scene of devastation.

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Police question several people in connection with the bombing.CNN's Maria Ressa reports (March 5)
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MANILA, Philippines (CNN) -- Police in the Philippines are hunting members of a militant Islamic secessionist group who they say are responsible for the airport bomb that killed 21 people.

Officers say the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was responsible for the bombing at Davao City International Airport in the south of the country and have ordered the arrests of senior MILF figures.

Those being targeted by police include chairman Hashim Salamat, spokesman Eid Kabalu and Ghazali Jaafar and Al Haj Murad, the group's political and military chiefs.

The MILF has denied any role in Tuesday's blast on Mindanao island, 609 miles (980 km) south of Manila.

The office of Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, who is supervising the investigation, told CNN the arrests were prompted by "the increased lawlessness and violence and intensified terrorist activity [in Mindanao]."

The arrests would represent a major shift in official policy towards the MILF, the largest of the four groups fighting for an Islamic state in the south of the mainly Roman Catholic country.

Until now the group has been officially regarded as a political organization and not a criminal or terrorist group.

Police on Thursday said it was possible the bomber, among those killed in the blast, had accidentally set off the device earlier than intended.

The bomb was reportedly planted in a backpack and exploded in the airport's waiting area where about 80 people had gathered to greet passengers.

Defense Department spokesman Lt Col. Danilo Servando told CNN the bomber was an MILF member but said there was no evidence of a deliberate suicide bombing.

The Philippines is on high alert following Tuesday's blasts, the second of which was a smaller bomb that hit Tagum, north of Davao, shortly after the airport explosion. Two people were slightly injured.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo visited the bombed-out airport on Wednesday, leaving a wreath for those killed, as police reported two other bombings hit the country, this time without loss of life.

Despite the upsurge of violence in recent days, Arroyo says U.S. troops will not go into combat against Philippine rebels. (No to combat)

U.S. Special Forces are already training local troops in the southern Philippines.

Muslim insurgents and guerilla groups, including the Abu Sayyaf and the MILF, have been waging a bloody battle against the government for decades, mainly in the country's south.

Fighting has escalated since the Philippine military attacked a key MILF stronghold three weeks ago.

Since then, the military has blamed a series of bombings and raids on the MILF, including an attack on power transmission towers which triggered a massive power failure in the southern Philippines last week.

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