Manila, Philippines — A bomb hidden in a trash can exploded on a ferry in the southern Philippines as it was loading passengers this morning, injuring at least 30 people, including nine children, military officials said. The region had been on alert for terrorist attacks.
The M.V. Dona Ramona was docked at the wharf at Lamitan, on the island of Basilan, about 7:30 a.m. local time as it prepared to depart for nearby Zamboanga. At least six people were badly burned, including a soldier.
The south is the homeland of the country's Muslim minority and a decades-old separatist insurgency.
Military spokesman Lt. Col. Buenaventura Pascual said that a homemade bomb was placed in a trash can. Brig. Gen. Raymundo Ferrer, who rushed to the scene, said a firebomb may have gone off near the ferry's canteen, citing a statement by the skipper and the nature of the victims' wounds.
"It's an IED," said Ferrer, the army commander in Basilan, referring to an improvised explosive device - the military term for homemade bombs.
"Initially, this could be a concealed explosive device without metallic parts. The apparent intention was to injure and scare people," he told a local radio station by telephone as he inspected the ferry's lower deck hit by the blast.
A military UH-1H helicopter was deployed to pick up five victims with severe injuries and take them to a hospital in Zamboanga city, he said.
Ferrer said the ship's security measures included two soldiers who stood at a gangplank to inspect incoming passengers.
A bomb went off on a ferry in Manila Bay last year, killing 116 people in the country's worst terrorist attack. Two bombs injured 30 people in southern Zamboanga city early this month. Both attacks have been blamed on the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf group.
Troops and police have been put on alert in major cities in the southern region of Mindanao because of possible diversionary attacks as the military wages a nearly two-month-old offensive to capture a group of Abu Sayyaf members, including the group's chieftain Khaddafy Janjalani, in southern Maguindanao province.
While Janjalani and other Abu Sayyaf leaders were reported to be in Maguindanao, the rebel group has long organized units called Urban Terrorist Groups to strike in key cities, including in Basilan, which has always been regarded as a high-risk area for terrorist attacks.
The Abu Sayyaf, which is on U.S. and European lists of terrorist organizations, has been blamed for a number of other bombings. Philippine security officials say the group also has ties with Jemaah Islamiyah, which has cells in several Southeast Asian countries.
U.S. counterterrorism training has been credited with helping the Philippine military oust the Abu Sayyaf from their southern strongholds, including Basilan, and capture or kill key commanders and members.