Terrorists in Phillipines 'have foreign backing'

Philippine authorities are looking into the possible role of “foreign terrorists” in a series of deadly bomb attacks in the country’s south, officials said on Monday.

A Marine soldier was killed and 17 other people were injured in the latest attack late on Sunday when a bomb exploded outside a Roman Catholic shrine in the port city of Zamboanga.

Three days earlier, two bombs tore through shopping malls in Zamboanga’s commercial district, killing seven people and injuring over 100 others.

City Mayor Maria Clara Lobregat said authorities believed one group was behind all three attacks, and that the group has foreign backing. “I believe the same group was behind the attack and I think foreign terrorists were aiding them or giving them instructions what to do,” Lobregat said.

President Gloria Arroyo’s National Security Adviser Roilo Golez said officials already have suspects in mind, but refused to give names.

“We don’t want to speculate, but we are analysing this and we are analysing the case quietly,” he said over ABS-CBN television.

An Arroyo representative, Roberto Capco, urged the public to take precautions against terrorist attacks, even as he urged for calm. “We should not panic.
We should not exacerbate the situation by painting it as something that is out of control,” Capco said, adding that city mayors have already made contingency plans to thwart attacks.

“What we are doing now is intensifying intelligence work so we can trace these people, find them and bring them to justice,” he said.

The attacks rattled the financial markets on Monday, with the Philippine Stock Exchange composite index plunging to an 11-month low to close at 1,014.90 and the peso slumping to a fresh 14-month low at 53.460 pesos in morning trade.

Police had earlier tagged the Muslim extremist group Abu Sayyaf as behind the October 17 bombing of the shopping malls, the deadliest bombing attacks so far on this mostly Christian port city of 600 000 people.

Zamboanga has been a target for attacks after it served as the hub of a joint US-Philippines military campaign earlier this year against the Abu Sayyaf, a group of Muslim gunmen which both governments have linked to the al-Qaida network of Osama bin Laden.

A US soldier was killed in another Zamboanga explosion on October 2 near an army arms depot. A bus bombing in Manila also killed three people last week, although it was not known if the incident was linked to those in the south. Zamboanga police on Monday were interviewing a 13-year-old boy who claimed to have seen a young man park a pedicab strapped with explosives minutes before it went off outside the Fort Pilar shrine on Sunday.

The shrine, which features a century-old icon of the Virgin Mary, is a heavily guarded public place here with a Marine detachment camped nearby.

“I saw him—he’s about 17 years old—parked (the pedicab) and left and then there was an explosion. It was the bicycle that exploded,” investigators quoted the witness as saying. A Muslim man who was detained by soldiers at the scene has been released after questioning, investigators said.

The wave of bombings has coincided with a devastating bomb attack that killed more than 180 people on the Indonesian resort island of Bali on October 12. That attack has been linked to Muslim extremists that also operate cells in certain other Southeast Asian countries, including the southern Philippines. - Sapa-AFP

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