News24

Seven bombs in Zamboanga

2002-10-17 17:23

Zamboanga, Philippines - Two almost simultaneous bombings blamed on Muslim rebels in the southern Philippine city of Zamboanga killed at least six people and wounded 144 others on Thursday.

A bomb disposal unit recovered and defused seven other explosive devices planted around Zamboanga's commercial district, just a few metres away from the police headquarters, the military said as ordnance experts and their dog squad sifted through the rubble.

The first bomb exploded just before noon on the ground floor of the three-storey Shop-O-Rama department store packed with shoppers, instantly killing a security guard and two other people and critically wounding several others.

Minutes later a second bomb went off in a nearby store, killing two other people. A sixth victim died from his wounds while being treated, hospital staff said.

One man, his torso covered with blood and his shirt torn off, was seen emerging from the rubble and staggering towards a shocked crowd.

Wounded victims lay motionless on the sidewalk among mangled bodies, body parts and shattered glass, witnesses said. The force of the explosions destroyed metal shutters and windows of nearby shops.

'Tragedy'

A truckload of army troops was immediately sent to cordon off the commercial district, while check points were set up and armoured personnel carriers patrolled the streets of this mostly-Christian city of 500 000.

"I feel terrible. This is an unfortunate tragedy," Zamboanga city Mayor Maria Clara Lobregat said after visiting some of the wounded.

"I was there at the hospital and the city is helping out with the medicines and whatever they need," Lobregat said.

Thursday's explosions were the latest in the troubled southern Philippines this month and security officials had earlier warned of terrorist attacks here in the wake of the Bali car bombing in Indonesia, which killed more than 180 people.

No one claimed responsibility for the blasts, but the military named the Abu Sayyaf, a Muslim extremist group notorious for kidnapping Christians and foreigners, as the main suspect in the attack.

Military spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Danilo Servando said TNT was used in the latest bomb attacks, as it had been in an October 2 blast that killed a US serviceman and three Filipinos, also in Zamboanga, for which Abu Sayyaf has also been blamed.

"We are looking at the group of Khadaffy Janjalani as primarily responsible for the incident. The bombs recovered were similar to the ones used" in the October 2 attack, Servando said.

Janjalani is the senior leader of the Abu Sayyaf.

Vowed to crush terrorists

A spokesperson for the presidential palace, Roberto Capco, said the authorities were initially treating Thursday's bombing as a "local incident" not linked to terrorist plots in the region.

"We will get to the bottom of this. We condemn this terrorist act," armed forces southern command chief Lieutenant General Narciso Abaya said.

The attack came barely three hours after Abaya assumed his post as the top commander in the south and vowed to crush Abu Sayyaf guerrillas operating in nearby Basilan and Jolo islands.

The US and Philippine governments have linked the Abu Sayyaf to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

Police said 16 people, including two Turks and a Malaysian, were brought in for questioning in connection with Thursday's attacks, but refused to say if they were suspects.

Eyewitnesses saw the 16 entering police vehicles without handcuffs.

In other recent attacks in the southern Philippines, six people were killed and more than 20 others wounded in a bomb explosion at a bus terminal in the southern city of Kidapawan on October 10. - Sapa-AFP