In an attack blamed on Al Qaeda, a mortar round concealed in a box has exploded under a car outside Zamboanga City's Immaculate Conception cathedral in the Philippines.
The China Post quotes police as saying suspected al-Qaeda-linked militants bombed a Catholic cathedral compound and a building housing a government office on Sunday. No one was injured in the blasts.
The explosion occurred more than a week after the US and Australian embassies issued advisories against traveling to Zamboanga due to threats on foreigners.
Zamboanga Peninsula Police Director Jaime Caringal has placed the police on the highest level of security following the dawn explosions in Zamboanga City.
Government troops and police had already tightened security in the town for a weeklong national sports festival and a medical conference, he said.
Caringal said a mortar round, concealed in a box, exploded under a car in the parking lot of the Cathedral, damaging two cars, a concrete wall and two steel gates.
"The bombings were apparently not meant to kill but aimed to cause fear," Caringal told The Associated Press by telephone.
Another other bomb was left at the roadside fronting the passport office building of the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs 1.5 kilometers away from the cathedral.
Reports indicate that there was a five-minute interval between explosions.
According to Task Force Zamboanga (TFZ) chief Colonel Darwin Guerra, the bombs were aimed to frighten and cause panic.
A church caretaker saw three men fleeing the scene on a motorcycle shortly before the blast, Caringal said. The caretaker said the men talked in a dialect spoken on Jolo, a mostly Muslim island where the Abu Sayyaf is active.
Caringal said police suspect the men were Abu Sayyaf or Jemaah Islamiyah militants, but an investigation was under way.
Archbishop Romulo Valles, a regional church official, called for prayers, and Zamboanga City Mayor Celso Lobregat appealed for calm.
"We should remain calm. Let us not panic or show fear because it will just give added victory to the perpetrators," Lobregat told reporters.
The US and Australian embassies separately warned their citizens early this month that "extremist elements" planned to kidnap Americans and other foreigners in Zamboanga city.
Suspected al-Qaida-linked militants bomb cathedral in Philippines; no casualties (China Post, 12/4/08)
Bomb targets Philippines cathedral (The Age, 13/4/08)
Al Qaeda (Wikipedia)
Zamboanga City (Wikipedia)