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Five rebels held in deadly airport blast

| Thursday, March 6, 2003

MANILA, Philippines -- Authorities announced Wednesday that they have detained five members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in connection with a fatal airport bombing the day before. The death toll in the country's deadliest terrorist attack in three years rose to 21.

Philippine security officials said the blast Tuesday at Davao's airport, which wounded at least 150 people, appeared to be in retaliation for a weeklong Philippine military offensive on one of the group's compounds. The offensive killed at least 40 rebels and five government soldiers.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front has denied responsibility for the bombing, but security officials said yesterday that they believe the explosion was the work of the front's "special operations group."

"We are certain that it's the MILF who did it," said a military intelligence official, who asked not to be named.

The official said one of the dead -- a man whose body has not been claimed -- was recognized by a military intelligence operative as a member of the front.

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