ZAMBOANGA, Philippines - A suspected suicide bomber blew himself up and injured 14 people in an attack on an airport in the restive southern Philippines on Thursday, authorities said.
A local governor who had just disembarked a plane at the Zamboanga airport and was slightly injured in the explosion said he was the intended target of the attack.
"It exploded beside me," Sakur Tan, the governor of the Sulu island group, near Zamboanga, told reporters from his home afterwards.
"I believe he was a suicide bomber . . . maybe he was ordered to carry it out and the bomb had a remote trigger mechanism."
Regional military commander Lieutenant-General Benjamin Dolorfino said authorities were looking into the possible involvement of the Abu Sayyaf, an al-Qaida-linked group on the U.S. government's list of terrorist organisations.
He also indicated that a suicide bomb attack may have occurred.
"The dead person was possibly the bomber," Dolorfino told AFP.
Local hospital officials told AFP they were treating 14 people for injuries suffered from the blast. The mayor of Zamboanga, Celso Lobregat, said one of the hospitalized victims was seriously wounded.
The attack took place on the eve of a scheduled visit to Zamboanga by the U.S. ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas, who was set to inspect local projects funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Thomas immediately cancelled his trip and condemned the attack, while offering U.S. assistance in bringing the perpetrators to justice.
"Knowing that the (police are) working hard to investigate this tragic incident, and understanding that my visit would require a great deal of security support, I have decided to postpone my travel tomorrow," he said.
The U.S. military has had about 500 soldiers stationed in the region of Mindanao — one of the strongholds of the Abu Sayyaf that takes in Zamboanga — since early 2002 to train local troops to combat the group.
However the U.S. soldiers are not allowed to have a combat role.
Tan said he suffered minor injuries but refused to be taken to hospital.
"I was hurt, but only slightly," he said.
Tan said he saw a flash of light moments before the explosion, which occurred at dusk outside the terminal building. Tan and one of his sons, Samir Tan, had just gotten off a plane from Manila.
Samir Tan said the severed head of the suspected bomber slammed into him, but he was otherwise unhurt.
Sakur Tan said the attack may have been in retribution for criminal charges he was filing against "enemies" on the Sulu islands, but he did not name them.
The Sulu islands are another Abu Sayyaf stronghold.
Lobregat said the blast occurred just after the plane carrying the Tans and other passengers had landed and as passengers were leaving the terminal.
The Abu Sayyaf is blamed for the country's worst terrorist attacks, including a ferry bombing that killed over 100 people in Manila Bay in 2004.
It has also conducted a series of kidnappings of both locals and foreigners in the southern Philippines.
However suicide bomb attacks have been rare in the southern Philippines.