2 JI suspects in LRT bombing nabbed in Marawi

- Jaime Laude () - August 4, 2004 - 12:00am
Two alleged members of the al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) regional network allegedly behind the Rizal Day bombings in 2000 that left 22 people dead in Metro Manila four years ago have been captured, the military announced yesterday.

Army spokesman Buenaventura Pascual said Mamasao Naga, alias Zainal Paks, and Abdul Pata, alias Mohamad Amir, were apprehended shortly before noon on Monday in Barangay Lilod in Marawi City.

Pascual said the arrest highlighted the government’s intensive intelligence operations in tracking down those involved in a series of bomb attacks in Metro Manila on Dec. 30, 2000 that also left nearly 100 wounded as the nation celebrated Rizal Day.

"Paks (Naga) and Amir (Pata) were identified to be responsible for the bombing in the light rail transit in Manila and a bus in Quezon City in 2000," Pascual said.

Naga and Pata were said to be local understudies of slain JI bomb expert Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi and Muklis Yunos, now facing multiple murder charges over the Rizal Day bombings.

Pascual said the two suspects had prepared the bombs along with senior Indonesian JI leaders which included Riduan Isamuddin, alias Hambali, and Al-Ghozi, who was killed by the military in Cotabato last October, three months after his escape from his detention cell at Camp Crame in Quezon City.

Pascual said Al-Ghozi had previously identified Naga and Pata as part of the team that carried out the actual bombing and that warrants for their arrest had already been issued.

Military intelligence agents arrested the two at their hideout in Marawi City, serving the warrant issued by the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 54 for multiple and frustrated murder charges.

A Daewoo 9-mm. pistol and several documents detailing their links with the JI in the Philippines were also seized from the suspects, Pascual said.

The two militants will now face dozens of murder and attempted murder charges, Pascual added.

He said Naga and Pata had been brought to Manila for interrogation and will be presented by Defense Secretary Eduardo Ermita to the media today.

Police intelligence sources disclosed Naga and Pata belonged to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)’s special operations group headed by Yunos, who was arrested in Cagayan de Oro City while trying to board a domestic flight to Manila last year.

Yunos reportedly took over Al-Ghozi’s operations after the Indonesian was captured by the military in Quiapo, Manila.

The MILF has been fighting government troops in Mindanao, demanding independence for Muslim areas, but publicly rejects terrorism and has denied allegations that it shelters JI members.

"The arrest of the two MILF members will help complete the jigsaw puzzle we are trying to put together in the investigation of the Rizal Day bombings in 2000," said a police intelligence official, who asked not to be identified.

Only two among 10 suspects in the series of bomb attacks — Ustad Said and Salman Moro — remain at large.

Hambali was arrested in Thailand last year while Malaysian resident Faiz Abubakar Bafana was detained in Singapore, suspected of planning to blow up US, British and Australian targets in that city.

The Rizal Day bombings were closely coordinated with the Christmas day bombings of Christian churches in Indonesia in 2000, an indication that JI planned, funded and carried out the attacks in the two Southeast Asian countries, the intelligence official said.

Southeast Asian governments allege the JI, blamed for the Bali bomb attacks that killed 202 people in Indonesia in October 2002, has close ties with the al-Qaeda network behind the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.

Washington has expressed deep concern over the reported presence of JI training camps being run by the MILF in Mindanao.

The military has arrested several Muslim militants with alleged links to the group and acknowledged that up to 40 JI foreign militants may still be hiding somewhere in the jungles of Mindanao.

On the other hand, retired Armed Forces vice chief Lt. Gen. Rodolfo Garcia disclosed that in the information gathered by the military so far, it had indicated that the "mainstream" MILF had no knowledge of the involvement of some of its men in JI operations.

Garcia, who headed the government panel in the peace talks with the MILF until his retirement last month, also called on the government to pursue negotiations with the Muslim separatist guerrillas. — With Ding Cervantes, Roel Pareño, AFP

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