MANILA, Philippines — Two U.S. soldiers were killed in a landmine attack Tuesday by suspected al-Qaida-linked militants in the southern Philippines, military officials said.
U.S. officials did not immediately comment on the blast.
It was believed to be just the second time U.S. soldiers have been killed in the southern Philippines in violence blamed on the Abu Sayyaf group since American counterterrorism troops were deployed to the region in 2002, and the first fatalities in years.
One Philippine marine also was killed and two others wounded in the blast on Jolo island, where American counterterrorism troops have been providing combat training and weapons to Filipino troops battling Abu Sayyaf militants.
Military spokesman Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner said a Philippine military convoy joined by U.S. troops was on its way to an area in Jolo's Indanan township where troops were building two school buildings and digging artesian wells when the landmine exploded.
’Not in combat’
One U.S. soldier died at the scene, while another who was critically wounded in the blast died a short time later, Brawner told The Associated Press.
"They were not in combat," Brawner told reporters earlier. "These U.S. soldiers were there in the area to supervise the developmental projects in Indanan."
U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Rebecca Thompson said American officials were "investigating the incident" but declined to comment further.
Suspicion falls on Abu Sayyaf
Brawner said no suspects were immediately identified, but suspicion immediately fell on the well-armed Abu Sayyaf, which is blamed for numerous bombings, beheadings and kidnappings of Filipinos and foreigners in the south in recent years.
A senior Philippine military commander overseeing counterterrorism campaigns in the south told The Associated Press that Abu Sayyaf had likely planted the landmine in Indanan, where the militants have jungle strongholds. The commander spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give information to reporters.
Abu Sayyaf is believed to have about 400 fighters, to have received funds from al-Qaida and is suspected of sheltering militants from the larger Southeast Asian terror group Jemaah Islamiyah.
An estimated 600 U.S. troops are currently stationed in the Philippines, mostly in the southern front lines of the Philippine military's operations against the Abu Sayyaf group and Jemaah Islamiyah.
In October 2002, a U.S. Green Beret was killed along with two Filipinos when a bomb loaded with nails exploded outside a cafe in Zamboanga city.
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