Rivals suspected in attack on Filipino governor

AP News
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Posted: Aug 15, 2011 10:18 PM
Rivals suspected in attack on Filipino governor

Political rivals and not terrorists may have staged a car bomb attack that killed two people and wounded six but missed a Filipino governor traveling in a convoy in a violent southern region, officials said Tuesday.

Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, who took office after many of his relatives were slain in the country's worst political massacre in 2009, was shaken but unhurt in Monday's attack in Tacurong City in Sultan Kudarat Province.

His bullet-resistant van was leading a seven-vehicle convoy to his birthday celebration when a parked car laden with a 105 mm howitzer round blew up and struck the fourth vehicle in his entourage, police said.

Among the wounded was a Maguindanao provincial board member, who later died in a hospital. His son, whose foot was severed by the powerful blast, was in serious condition. A bystander also was killed, Sultan Kudarat police chief Danilo Peralta said.

"We're looking at the possibility that this was politically motivated and not an act of terrorism," Peralta told The Associated Press. He refused to name any suspects amid an investigation.

TV footage showed the wreckage of the bomb-laden car and soot-covered debris scattered on the road. The blackened dash board and steering wheel were the only recognizable parts.

Additional police forces were deployed to Sultan Kudarat following the attack to mount 24-hour road checkpoints and patrols, Peralta said.

Mangudadatu told investigators he has been receiving death threats. He suspected political rivals rather than Muslim militants in the attack, Peralta said, adding the car bomb was parked far from houses and crowded areas, which are usually targeted by terrorists.

Suspected militants were believed to have planted two powerful bombs made of mortar rounds near a crowded mall in June, and two other devices hidden in a sack in a passenger bus terminal in Tacurong last weekend. All the bombs were safely defused, Peralta said.

Mangudadatu, an ex-town mayor, rose to prominence in November 2009 when 57 people _ including his wife, sisters, supporters and at least 31 journalists _ were gunned down in Maguindanao in a massacre that was blamed on his political rivals.

The group was attacked while they were traveling to register Mangudadatu's candidacy for governor, a position he later won by a landslide. A powerful family patriarch and former governor, Andal Ampatuan Sr., and a number of his sons are among the 196 people accused in the massacre.

They have been charged with murder and put on trial in Manila. The Ampatuans have denied any involvement in the killings and pointed to Muslim guerrillas as possible suspects.

Sultan Kudarat and nearby Maguindanao, about 590 miles (950 kilometers) southeast of Manila, are in a violent region that teems with Muslim guerrillas and warlord clans with private armies.

Muslim guerrillas belonging to the main Moro Islamic Liberation Front clashed with Mangudadatu's followers in Maguindanao in April over a land dispute, but rebel spokesman Von Al Haq said his group had nothing to do with Monday's car bomb.

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Associated Press writer Teresa Cerojano contributed to this report.