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Gunmen seize P'ppine passenger bus


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MANILA, Philippines (CNN) -- Islamic rebels seized a passenger bus in the southern Philippines early Monday, killing an off-duty military officer on board before soldiers and police freed the hostages, authorities say.

The Philippine army blamed the Moro Islamic Liberation Front for the attack, which ended with a raid that left a paramilitary volunteer dead and five others wounded.

The gunmen seized the bus about 5:30 a.m. Monday (10:30 p.m. GMT) in the town of Pikit, in the southern island of Mindanao, said Danilo Lucero, a spokesman for the military's Southern Command.

They forced about 35 passengers off the bus and into a nearby school, where they searched them.

Officials at the scene said the gunmen introduced themselves as rebels of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, or MILF, and robbed the passengers of cell phones, money and other belongings, the Associated Press reports.

One man turned out to be an off-duty army officer in civilian clothes. Police said the guerrillas executed him.

Philippine troops and paramilitary fighters caught up with kidnappers at the school and a firefight ensued. Police said the gunmen escaped, but not before killing one of the paramilitaries and wounding another five.

The MILF is the biggest of several groups fighting for an Islamic state in the south of the mainly Catholic Philippines.

Officials from more than half a dozen countries in Southeast Asia accuse it of setting up training camps for al Qaeda -- including a suspected one in Pikit, which the Philippine military attacked three weeks ago.

The bus hijacked Monday was on its way to Davao, where a bombing at an airport last week killed 21 people and wounded 148.

The Philippine government blamed the MILF for that attack and ordered the arrest of the group's top officials, but the rebels have denied responsibility.

-- CNN Correspondent Maria Ressa and Producer Jess Liwanag contributed to this report.


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