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LRT blast suspect pleads guilty

- Cecille Suerte Felipe -
Self-confessed separatist rebel Saifullah Yunos pleaded guilty yesterday to charges that he helped plan the terrorist bombing of a Light Rail Transit coach which killed 19 people in Manila on Dec. 30, 2000.

The 31-year-old exclaimed "yes" through an interpreter when Judge Lucia Purugganan told him he could be punished by death for his admission to the blast, which killed 19 people and wounded over a hundred others.

Yunos, alias Moklis Yunos, who claims to be a Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) sub-commander, pleaded guilty during arraignment before the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 54. Purruganan has set a pre-trial hearing on July 21.

He was charged with multiple murder, a capital offense, and multiple attempted murder.

He had been charged in absentia before his arrest last May 25 at Lumbia airport in Cagayan de Oro City as he was about to board a plane for Manila.

Yunos, wearing an orange detainee’s shirt with "PNP-IG Detainee" markings, cargo pants and sandals, told Purugganan that he was aware he could face the death penalty.

When Purugganan asked Yunos whether he knew that he could get the death penalty, Yunos said he was willing to die for his actions.

Speaking in his native tongue, Yunos acknowledged having helped plan the Rizal Day 2000 attack, which he had earlier told prosecutors was in retaliation for a military offensive which then President Joseph Estrada had ordered to drive the MILF out of their various strongholds in Central Mindanao.

"I have already admitted to everything in my sworn statement," he was overheard telling his interpreter.

National Bureau of Investigation agent Onos Mangontara served as interpreter for Yunos during the 30-minute proceeding.

State Prosecutor Peter Ong said he was confident Yunos would be convicted for the crime, even as he acknowledged that court cases often moved slowly.

"But he is going down," Ong said, noting that at least three survivors of the bloody attack — a mother and her two children — have positively identified Yunos.

"They saw him get off the train minutes before it exploded. The guy has also admitted (to the crime), and it will work against his co-accused," Ong said.

Yunos’s guilty plea will strengthen the government’s case, he added.

Yunos, who was in handcuffs and guarded by two policemen armed with M-16 rifles, sat quietly at the second row of the courtroom at the Manila City Hall, where he arrived at 8:30 a.m., escorted by heavily armed troops from the Special Action Force.

Yunos appeared unrepentant through most of the 30-minute arraignment.

Also present at the arraignment was lawyer Efren Meneses Jr., chief of the NBI’s Anti-Fraud and Computer Crimes Division, which investigated and filed the case in court.

The attack at the LRT station on Blumentritt street in Manila was one of five simultaneous bombings on Rizal Day, 2000. Aside from the LRT station, powerful bombs also exploded almost simultaneously at Plaza Ferguson in front of the US Embassy in Manila, a passenger bus traveling along EDSA in Cubao, Quezon City in which a passenger was killed; a cargo terminal at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay City, and an abandoned gas station near Dusit Hotel in Makati City, where two police bomb experts were killed.

Prosecutors also charged Monday several suspected leaders of al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) group with plotting and

financing the attack: Isamuddin Riduan, also known as Hambali, who is at large; Abubakar Bafana Faiz, detained in Singapore; and Fathur Rohman Al-Ghozi, detained at Camp Crame in Quezon City.

Five Filipinos, all believed to belong to the MILF, were also charged in absentia.

Prosecutors said Yunos was the head of a crack MILF terror squad and that the bomb attack was financed by the Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiyah.

The Indonesia-based JI is said to be the Southeast Asian chapter of al-Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden.

Yunos allegedly carried out the attack with an Indonesian, self-confessed JI bomb expert Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, now serving a 17-year jail term in the country for explosives possession.

Al-Ghozi had admitted he procured the bombs used in the attack using funds wired by JI leaders Hambali and Faiz Bin Abubakar Bafana.

Al-Ghozi has been sentenced to 10-12 years in prison after pleading guilty on a separate charge of explosives possession.

Hambali, an Indonesian, is suspected of being the former JI operations chief and Bin Laden’s point man in Southeast Asia.

Faiz is believed to have once led the group’s branch in Malaysia.

Anti-terrorism officials across Southeast Asia say JI aims to establish a Muslim extremist stronghold in the region and blame the group for last year’s Bali bombings that killed 202 people, and for alleged plots to attack Western and Israeli targets in Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Philippine intelligence officials said the suspected collusion between JI and the MILF in carrying out the Rizal Day bombings proves that the Filipino guerrillas have had links with foreign terrorists.

Prosecutors said Al-Ghozi and Yunos have described how Hambali and Faiz financed the purchase of about 70 kilograms of explosives used in the bombings and traveled to Metro Manila to monitor the attacks.

Yunos allegedly prepared the bombs’ wiring while Al-Ghozi reportedly admitted preparing the switch on the alarm-clock triggers and packing the explosives, the prosecutors said.

ABUBAKAR BAFANA FAIZ

AL-GHOZI

AL-GHOZI AND YUNOS

ANTI-FRAUD AND COMPUTER CRIMES DIVISION

ATTACK

JEMAAH ISLAMIYAH

QUEZON CITY

RIZAL DAY

SOUTHEAST ASIA

YUNOS

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