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Bombing in the Philippines Kills at Least 20 and Wounds 170
Tue Mar 4, 2:56 PM ET
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By SETH MYDANS The New York Times

MANILA, March 4 In the deadliest attack in a recent surge of violence in the southern Philippines, a bomb at an international airport killed at least 20 people today and wounded 170 others as they took shelter in a shed from the rain.

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Among those killed in the attack in Davao City was an American Baptist missionary, William P. Hyde, 59, who had lived and worked in the Philippines since 1978.

He had come to the airport to meet Barbara Wallis Stevens, 33, and her family, who were arriving from the capital, Manila. Mrs. Stevens, her 10-month-old son, Nathan, and her daughter, Sarah, were slightly injured.

With her husband, Mark, who was not injured, Mrs. Stevens has worked in the Philippines as a Baptist missionary since 2000.

"I just heard it explode to my side," she said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "I was carrying my infant son so I grabbed my daughter and picked her up and ran away."

Mr. Hyde was a former music teacher who lived here with his wife, Lyn Gage Hyde, and their two children, said Bill Bangham, a member of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board based in Richmond, Va.

"Our hearts go out to these families and their coworkers," Larry Cox, a spokesman for the board, said in a statement. "We are moving quickly to assist the missionaries affected by this tragedy."

The Baptists say they have 5,441 missionaries stationed around the world and claim to have converted 395,000 people to Christianity in 2001 alone.

Most of Mindanao's 18 million people, like most of the 76 million in the country, are Christian. There are also 5 million Muslims in Mindanao. Rebel groups have been fighting there for 25 years for a separate Muslim homeland.

The Philippine military recently opened a new offensive against the largest of these groups, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and it has blamed the group for a series of recent bombings. A spokesman for the rebels, speaking to a radio station, denied responsibility for today's attack.

So far, no other group has claimed responsibility for the bombing.

United States troops are now in Mindanao on a training mission but they are based in Zamboanga, 220 miles west of Davao. In recent months there have been bomb attacks in Zamboanga as well.

In a separate bombing today, a military spokesman said an explosion in Tagum, an hour's drive northeast of Davao City, injured two people. Also today the police said a town hall in Cotabato Province, in central Mindanao, was destroyed by a rocket-propelled grenade. A fuel tank maintained by the government's energy department in another province was also attacked today.

Last month a car bomb exploded outside the airport terminal in Cotabato City, killing one person.

During the past week a series of explosions has destroyed electric towers in Mindanao, causing blackouts across much of the island.

The waiting area at the Davao airport is about 15 yards from the main entrance. Security in the area has always been light and visitors outside the main building are not checked.

"At the time that the bomb went off, it was raining and many people were seeking refuge from the rain in the waiting shed," Abner Mendador, a private pilot whose house is within the airport compound, told reporters.

Terry Labado, an airport official, said: "It was a very, very loud explosion. I saw bodies flying."

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (news - web sites) had recently ordered the military to step up security in Mindanao.

"This is a brazen act of terrorism that will not go unpunished," she said in a statement late today. "The killing is a cowardly crime not only against the Filipino people but against humanity itself."

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