Seven hurt in Philippines bus blast

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Isulan, Philippines - A powerful bomb exploded in a passenger bus and wounded at least seven people in the southern Philippines in an attack by suspected extortion gangs, police said Sunday.

The homemade bomb exploded in the rear portion of the bus as it traveled late Saturday in Isulan town in Sultan Kudarat province, damaging the vehicle and sparking a brief fire but causing no injuries among the vehicle's passengers and crew, police Chief Superintendent Rolen Balquin said.

The force of the blast, however, shattered the windshield of another passenger bus nearby, wounding its driver and two passengers. Four bystanders along a roadside were wounded by shrapnel from the blast, Balquin said.

The bombing occurred despite a security alert over possible attacks by armed extortion gangs, which have targeted passenger buses in the south in the past.

Balquin said his men captured a member of the notorious Al Khobar extortion gang who detonated a roadside bomb last month in Sultan Kudarat's Tacurong town and later told investigators the attack was part of an attempt to extort money from a bus company. The bombing prompted the provincial police to go on full alert with intensified patrols of public areas and road checkpoints.

Intelligence agencies also went on alert Sunday, the anniversary of five near-simultaneous bombings by al-Qaida-linked Filipino extremists that killed 22 people and wounded about 100 in Manila on December 30, 2000. Police said they have not monitored any specific terrorist threat, but added that intelligence and counterterrorism agencies traditionally intensify their monitoring on dates when terrorists have staged major attacks. - Sapa-AP

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