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Filipino gunmen hijack group, kill 24

Associated Press / November 24, 2009

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MANILA - Dozens of gunmen hijacked a convoy carrying journalists and family and supporters of a candidate for provincial governor, killing at least 24 of the travelers yesterday in southern Philippines’ worst political violence in years.

There was no claim of responsibility for the bloodshed in the region, where Muslim insurgents, clans, and the local government have fought for power.

Police said the convoy of 40 people was going to register Ismael Mangudadatu to run for provincial governor when they were stopped by about 100 gunmen and taken to a remote mountainous area. Soldiers found 21 bodies, including those of Mangudadatu’s wife, Genalyn, and his two sisters, sprawled on the ground or shot in their vehicles, military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Romeo Brawner said.

Mangudadatu, deputy mayor of the town of Buluan and a fierce political rival of the current governor of Maguindanao province, said his wife called him by mobile phone shortly before she and her entourage were abducted.

“She said . . . they were stopped by 100 uniformed armed men . . . then her line got cut off,’’ he said.

It was unclear whether anyone survived the attack.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said at least 10 local reporters were part of the convoy. Their organizations failed to reach them, leading them to conclude they, too, were killed.

Philippine elections are particularly violent in the south because of the presence of armed groups, including Muslim rebels fighting for self-rule in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation, and political warlords who maintain private armies.

The Muslim insurgency has killed about 120,000 people since the 1970s.