Philippine officials say terrorism unlikely in airport bombing that killed 2, injured governor

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — A bomb that killed two people and wounded two dozen others at a southern Philippine airport was probably an assassination attempt on a governor, not an act of terrorism, officials said Sunday.

The remotely triggered explosion killed a man who was carrying the bomb and his companion and wounded two dozen people, including Sulu Gov. Sakur Tan, at the Zamboanga city airport late Thursday, Zamboanga police Chief Edwin de Ocampo said.

The explosion caused U.S. Ambassador Harry Thomas to postpone a trip to Zamboanga the following day and rekindled fears of terrorism in the city, a bustling metropolis about 540 miles (860 kilometers) south of Manila that has experienced deadly bombings by al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf militants in the past.

"We can rule out terrorism," de Ocampo told The Associated Press. "By all indications, it was a politically motivated attack."

Tan, governor of Sulu island province — an Abu Sayyaf stronghold south of Zamboanga — blamed political rivals for the attack, which left a small wound near his ribs.

The bomb went off in a backpack carried by a local carpenter, Reynaldo Apilado, as Tan walked out of the airport after disembarking from a flight from Manila, Zamboanga Mayor Celso Lobregat said.

The blast killed Apilado and a companion, Hatimil Yacob, and slightly wounded Tan, who was a few yards (meters) away. The backpack was slung on Apilado's back as he faced Tan, causing him to absorb the impact, de Ocampo said.

The perpetrators of the attack may have deceived Apilado by placing the explosive in his bag without his knowledge and then setting it off, de Ocampo said.

Apilado and Yacob checked in at a budget Zamboanga hotel on July 27 and went to the airport together on the day of the attack. Apilado's girlfriend told investigators that he went to the airport to meet an engineer who supposedly would hire him on a construction project, de Ocampo said.

The bomb — a mix of ammonium nitrate and kerosene — did not contain nails or other shrapnel frequently used by Abu Sayyaf militants to make an attack more lethal. Part of a car power lock system was recovered at the scene of the attack, indicating the mechanism may have been used to remotely detonate the explosive, de Ocampo said.

Investigators were checking the background of Apilado and Yacob to determine who might have set them up for the attack, de Ocampo said.

Tan, an enemy of Abu Sayyaf militants, escaped unharmed in May last year when a bomb-rigged motorcycle exploded near his convoy in Sulu. A town mayor and at least three security escorts were wounded in that attack.

Newly elected President Benigno Aquino III, facing his first security crisis since assuming office in June, condemned the violence and ordered authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice, his spokesman, Edwin Lacierda, said.