Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Death toll in Valentine's Day blasts rises to 11

Explosions in the business district of Manila and two southern cities on Monday killed at least 11 people and wounded nearly 130, with besieged Moro rebels claiming two of the attacks.

The three blasts came inside an hour as people were leaving work or going out for a romantic dinner on Valentine's Day. "The ground was shaking," said a man in General Santos City after four people were killed at a shopping mall.

"The people were screaming and running in all directions."

Security forces quickly blamed Abu Sayyaf, a small Moro rebel group associated with al Qaeda, for the improvised bomb in General Santos and a grenade attack at a bus terminal in Davao that killed a young boy.

In Makati, six people were killed in an explosion on a bus at a commuter terminal near Glorietta mall, major hotels and the nation's financial and diplomatic core.

"There's a strong possibility the attacks could all be linked," National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales said.

"They have admitted two. We will know more later."

A police intelligence official told Reuters investigators had not ruled out a role by Jemaah Islamiah, a regional network of militants linked to al Qaeda and the suspected fund-raiser for previous attacks by Abu Sayyaf and other groups.

Abu Solaiman, a senior Abu Sayyaf leader, said on radio his group carried out the attacks in General Santos and Davao to punish President Arroyo for heavy military offensives in Jolo, its stronghold.

"This is our Valentine's gift for her," Solaiman said.

In February 2004, more than 100 people died when a bomb planted by Abu Sayyaf sank a ferry at the mouth of Manila Bay.

Nearly 5,000 troops on Jolo are fighting about 800 Abu Sayyaf fighters and rogue members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which signed a peace deal with the government of the mainly Roman Catholic country in 1996.

"They are now trying to divert our attention and doing these cowardly acts," Lt. Gen. Efren Abu, the military's chief of staff, said on television.

At least 94 people were wounded in the capital and 35 in the two southern cities.

Arroyo surveyed the twisted debris, bloodied clothes and broken glass in Manila without leaving her car as her spokesman, Ignacio Bunye, called the attacks "despicable acts of terror."

"We shall not be intimidated but we must be alert," he said.

Police said they had found dynamite and C-4 explosive by a roadside in a Manila suburb earlier Monday.

The last major attack in the capital was in December 2000, when 22 people were killed in near-simultaneous bombings of a train, a bus and other public places on a national holiday.

That attack is believed to have been directed by Jemaah Islamiah and carried out by renegade members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which broke from the MNLF in 1978.

The MILF, which is due to resume Malaysian-brokered talks with the government in March, has said the fighting on Jolo does not affect its path toward peace.

The rebels, who enjoy wide support among Jolo's Moro inhabitants, said the attacks were in retaliation for civilian deaths during military operations


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