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Post  Admin on Mon Dec 22, 2008 8:24 pm

By JIM GOMEZ,Associated Press Writer AP - Monday, December 22

MANILA, Philippines - Police defused a powerful bomb hidden inside a papaya fruit that attackers may have intended to detonate Sunday at a Roman Catholic cathedral in a violence-wracked southern Philippine city.

About 100 policemen will be deployed this week to bolster the security of Iligan city amid a security scare that has dampened the usually vibrant Christmas holiday season in the industrial hub of more than 300,000 people, Iligan Mayor Lawrence Cruz said.
"This is a crisis situation," Cruz told The Associated Press. "We should be at the height of the Christmas rush now but it feels gloomy."
A bomb fashioned from an 81 mm mortar round and concealed in a papaya fruit was found by scavengers in a vacant lot near a Roman Catholic cathedral in downtown Iligan. Police and army ordnance teams safely defused the bomb, Cruz said.
The would-be bombers may have planned to bring the bomb to the cathedral, which was packed with worshippers, but abandoned it at the lot about two blocks away due to heavy police presence in the church area, police Superintendent Celso Regencia said.
Police also checked an unattended bag, which scared off passers-by in an Iligan public plaza, but found no explosives, Regencia said.
Two nail-laden bombs exploded almost simultaneously Thursday in the baggage counters of two Iligan department stores packed with Christmas shoppers, killing two people and wounding 54 others.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo flew to Iligan, about 485 miles (780 kilometers) southeast of Manila, to console the victims Friday and order authorities to hunt down and punish the bombers.
Hours after Arroyo left Iligan, however, a third bomb was found and defused by a fruit stand close to the two stores hit in Thursday's blasts, police said.
Muslim guerrillas, who resent Iligan officials' opposition to a plan to annex a part of the city to an expanded Muslim autonomous region, are among the suspects in the bombings, Cruz said.
A closed-circuit television camera at one of the shops targeted Thursday showed two men wearing traditional Muslim garments handing over what appeared to be a bag. Minutes later, an explosion ripped the baggage counter apart, police said.
The bomb attacks have prompted a security alert in metropolitan Manila, where police organized a mock bombing exercise at a crowded commuter train terminal Saturday.
The British Embassy again advised its nationals against traveling to the southern Mindanao region due to terrorism and bomb attacks, citing Thursday's bombings in Iligan


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