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Jolo blast: Cathedral was original target

- Bebot Sison Jr., Cecille Suerte Felipe () - March 29, 2006 - 12:00am
The Abu Sayyaf terrorist group had initially targeted the Jolo Cathedral in its Monday bombing attack that left five people dead and 20 others wounded but was forced to alter its plans, police investigators revealed yesterday.

Owing to strict security measures around the Jolo Cathedral, the bombers diverted their attack to the Sulu multi-purpose cooperative, a store owned and managed by priests and Notre Dame of Jolo college administration, police said.

A police investigator revealed the Abu Sayyaf had targeted the store since "it serves both as a religious and commercial target."

The initial investigation into last Monday’s blast by military investigators also revealed the handiwork of the Abu Sayyaf.

Armed Forces Southern Command spokesman Brig. Gen. Francisco Callelero said the military is now tracking down a certain Abu Abdulgawey who claimed to have led a group of Abu Sayyaf bandits in the bombing attack.

"That was a clear act of terrorism and the Southern Command is pursuing the lead that the Abu Sayyaf demolition team was behind the bombing under Abu Abdulgawey," Callelero said.

A day before, Abdulgawey reportedly called up the management of the Sulu cooperative warning of a bombing attack.

Abdulgawey earlier sent a letter in Tausog dialect demanding money from the cooperative but this was turned down.

"We are informing the management of the coop to negotiate with us through the cell phone numbers that we are providing. If you will not negotiate we will explode the bomb," a part of the supposed extortion letter read.

Southern Command information chief Maj. Gamal Hayudini added the investigators believed that the bomb was already planted inside the store.

"And the suspect in fact called up a day (Sunday) prior to the explosion, but the management turned down any demand," Hayudini said.

The military said the supposed extortion letter made no mention of an amount but left two cellular phone numbers in case the store management decided to "negotiate."

The letter was left with a pharmacy clerk but it did not reach the cooperative management which had earlier closed for a one-hour lunch break. When the store reopened an hour later, the bomb went off.

The blast occurred around 1:15 p.m. at the ground floor of a two-story commercial building along busy Serrantes street in downtown Jolo, the capital of Sulu.

Police said a portion of the building’s facade was blown off due to the impact of the explosion.

The investigation revealed a cell phone was used as a triggering device for a pack of ammonium nitrate. Some traces of the fertilizer have been recovered at the blast site.

Security officials pointed out the method of using a cell phone as a triggering device is a known signature of the Abu Sayyaf.
Heightened alert
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Brig. Gen. Jose Angel Honrado said the initial report of military investigators revealed the attack was carried out by the Abu Sayyaf.

Honrado also confirmed five people were killed in the bombing attack with 20 others wounded.

The fatalities were identified as Nasser Hadjinul, Masser Saipuddin, Jesus Cabrera, Marivic Manuel and 18-year-old Mukarsa Abduharim.

The report made by the Disaster Response Operation and Information Center of the Department of Social Welfare and Development also revealed 20 people were wounded in the blast. The youngest of the victims is five-year-old Nurfasa Kasim.

Honrado added the report by military investigators at the site concluded the bomb was planted at the ground floor of the establishment.

Meanwhile, other sources suggested the bombing attack might have been carried out by rival business groups.

Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) police director Senior Superintendent Akmad Mamalinta pointed out the cooperative grocery store might have earned the ire of other business establishments since it sells products cheaper than other outfits in Jolo.

The bombing attack prompted Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Arturo Lomibao to place all police forces under heightened alert.

Lomibao directed all the 16 regional police directors nationwide to strengthen security measures of vital installations and other probable terrorist targets.

"Checkpoints in strategic locations should be conducted to negate criminal and terrorist acts," he told his men.

Lomibao ordered Mamalinta to tighten security measures in Jolo following the bombing.

Last Monday’s blast was the second deadly bomb attack to hit the area this year. On Feb. 18, a bomb exploded at a bar outside an Army camp which left one civilian killed and 20 others wounded in that attack which was blamed on the Abu Sayyaf.

The island province of Sulu is a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf, notorious for kidnappings and terror attacks.

It was also the venue of a counterterrorism exercise last month between Philippine and US troops.

Dozens of US soldiers who took part in the exercises on the island quickly responded to the blast, sending ordnance experts and medical personnel to help transport the wounded to the hospital.
Condemnation
President Arroyo strongly condemned the bomb attack and ordered the police and military to hunt down the perpetrators.

"I sympathize with the families of the victims and direct the treatment of the wounded be given priority by our health services," Mrs. Arroyo said.

The President called on the public to remain calm and vigilant and took the opportunity to reiterate her call on Congress to approve the mothballed anti-terrorism bill.

"Indeed, terror never sleeps and we need to consistently carry out our comprehensive action plan to rid our country and the world of this grave threat," she stressed.

"Once more and with a deep sense of urgency, I ask Congress to pass the anti-terrorism law that will enable our nation to constrict, contain and control this threat more effectively," the President said.

Congressmen, for their part, noted last Monday’s bombing attack highlighted the urgency of passing the anti-terrorism bill.

Eastern Samar Rep. Marcelino Libanan said the Jolo bombing provided another compelling reason for the passage of the anti-terror bill.

"We condemn the attack as we work to ensure the passage of the anti-terror bill so perpetrators of attacks like this will be meted with the death penalty," he said.

Deputy Speaker for Mindanao Rep. Gerry Salapuddin (Basilan) said the enactment of the anti-terror bill was "a matter of necessity and a call of the time" in the light of the Jolo bombing attack.

Salapuddin said, however, that the measure must ensure that civil liberties and human rights will be respected in its implementation.

Anak Mindanao Rep. Mujiv Hataman condemned the bombing and claimed that in most cases of violence in his region and other areas, the casualties were innocent civilians.

"Unleashing terror against innocent civilians is deplorable and condemnable to the highest degree. Those behind the Jolo attack are enemies of the state and the people. This is unforgivable in a civilized society like ours," Hataman said.

Hataman urged the authorities to act fast and apprehend those responsible for the bombing.

But he warned the police and the military not to use last Monday’s attack as an excuse to launch indiscriminate crackdown on Muslims. — With Jaime Laude, John Unson, Roel Pareño, Aurea Calica, Jess Diaz, AP, AFP

ABU ABU ABDULGAWEY ABU SAYYAF ATTACK BOMBING JOLO JOLO CATHEDRAL POLICE SAYYAF SOUTHERN COMMAND
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