Philippine mall bomb toll at nine

Philippine police confirmed on Saturday that military-grade explosives caused a powerful blast in an upscale Manila shopping mall and that they were reviewing security camera footage to look for suspects.

The Glorietta mall blast at lunchtime on Friday killed nine people and wounded 120, although many of those wounded have been discharged after treatment, police and hospital sources said.

Explosives experts said the bomb was apparently set off in the basement of Glorietta, a sprawling three-storey complex of department stores, high-end fashion boutiques, restaurants, other shops and cinemas in the heart of the Makati business district.

Several luxury hotels and serviced apartment blocks surround the complex.

”No fragments of the bomb were found on the ground or upper floors,” said Major Reynold Rosero, a military bomb expert. ”So it must have come from the basement.”

The basement, a delivery area for goods, is now under knee-deep water because the explosion caused some water pipes to burst, he said. Investigations would therefore take some time.

The bomb ripped all the way through to the roof of the structure, devastating shops and restaurants. Police had earlier believed the bomb was near a cellphone repair shop directly above the delivery bay.

Eight people were confirmed dead on Friday and the body of a man was found early on Saturday in the debris, a police official said. Four people have been reported missing.

A police official told President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo at a conference at national police headquarters that traces of RDX, a component of plastic explosives, were found at the bomb site.

”It was military-grade explosives,” the expert said at the conference, which was open to the press.

Manila police chief Geary Barias said police have also started reviewing closed-circuit TV (CCTV) footage of the mall.

No one has claimed responsibility and no suspects have been named although some officials said Islamic Abu Sayyaf militants could be involved.

Norberto Gonzales, the president’s security adviser, said they received an intelligence report the Abu Sayyaf was trying to raise funds abroad using YouTube and the blast could be used as part of its fund-raising campaign.

Abu Sayyaf is said to be linked to the regional Jemaah Islamiah group, which has been blamed for similar explosions in the past, including the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people on the Indonesian resort isle.

A general alert has been issued for the rest of Manila and for the international airport.

Manila has largely been spared a spate of bomb attacks by Abu Sayyaf and other Muslim rebel groups that have plagued the southern Mindanao region. But it has been hit in the past.

A series of bomb blasts in 2000, blamed on a rogue faction of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, killed at least 22 people.

In February 2004, more than 100 people were killed when a bomb planted by Abu Sayyaf rebels sank a ferry near Manila Bay, the country’s worst terror attack. – Reuters

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