Sayyafs blamed for Basilan attacks

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

ISABELA CITY, Basilan (Updated) -- Government forces blamed the Abu Sayyaf group for a series of bombing attacks in this city Tuesday, as Malacañang ordered the military to give prompt attention to the atrocities.

Twelve people were killed, while 15 others were wounded when armed men disguised as policemen and soldiers detonated bombs and opened fire in a series of coordinated attacks that targeted a government office and a Catholic church in this city Tuesday.

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The attacks were one of the most daring operations of the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf bandits in recent months, said Regional Military Commander Lieutenant General Benjamin Dolorfino.

He said about 25 bandits were involved in the attacks, which began just after the morning rush hour when a bomb in a van exploded and damaged a grandstand in a sports center in this city.

Another bomb attached to a motorcycle went off an hour later, around 11:10 a.m., beside the Sta. Isabela Cathedral Church, injuring 13 people. The blast also destroyed 17 vehicles, including the service vehicle of the Basilan prelature bishop.

A third bomb was found near the residence of Basilan judge Leo Principe and detonated by the Explosive and Ordnance Demolition (EOD) personnel, Dolorfino said.

Army, police and Marines rapidly swarmed into the city and engaged the bandits, who split into at least three groups as they withdrew. The gunbattles sparked panic and sent passers-by fleeing for cover.

"I think (the attacks) were meant to create havoc... definitely they fall under terrorism," Major General Juancho Sabban, head of the Philippine Marines, told reporters in Manila.


The dead included three Marine soldiers, a policeman and three suspected bombers, including an Abu Sayyaf commander identified as Bensar Indama, who wore a police uniform.

Basilan Police Director Antonio Mendoza said that based on intelligence report, Indama is a brother of Abu Sayyaf leader Furiji Indama.

Five civilians were also killed in the attacks, including one who died in a hospital in nearby Zamboanga City after being airlifted from Basilan, Dolorfino said.

Fifteen people were wounded by the blasts and gunfire, including two bandits who were captured, he added.

No identities of the slain soldiers and policeman were immediately available except that they were personnel of Marine Battalion Landing Team-1 (MBLT-1) and the Basilan police provincial office.

Rear Admiral Alex Pama said American counterterrorism troops based in a military camp in this city were unaffected by the attacks and provided intelligence to help troops pursue the Abu Sayyaf gunmen.

'Foiled big plan'

Pama, who heads a counterterrorism force, said the bandits may have intended to detonate additional bombs and apparently tried but failed to take hostages before fleeing.

"They had a big plan, a major attack that we foiled," Pama said.

"If they intended to carry out a Mumbai-style attack, then it backfired," Pama said, referring to the November 2008 attacks in India's financial capital by 10 gunmen who stormed two luxury hotels, a Jewish center and a train station.

He said witnesses reported seeing Furiji Indama, blamed for kidnappings and beheadings, but he managed to escape.

Government troops pursued the attackers and caught up with one group in this city's outskirts, sparking a brief clash and enabling the seizure of a van used by the gunmen, Dolorfino said.

As of Tuesday evening, checkpoints were already set up in the city and nearby towns, while military and police have strengthen security in nearby Zamboanga City, which has also been hit by deadly bombings blamed on the Abu Sayyaf.

The officials said pursuit operation was already launched by combined Marine and police forces in the village of Binuangan, Isabela. The combined troops are pursuing at least eight people believed to be among the bombing suspects.

Basilan Police Director Mendoza said he has ordered his men to closely guard the two wounded suspects who were admitted at a hospital in this city.

He said the vehicle used by the bandits in transporting the explosives to this city is registered in Quezon City.

"As of now, we could not say whether this vehicle was sold or carnapped in Quezon City," he said, citing they are still coordinating with the Land Transportation Office.


While pursuit operations are ongoing in Basilan, Malacañang assured the public Tuesday that the perpetrators of the attacks "will be brought to speedy justice."

"We condemn these violent attacks that do not spare innocent civilians and we assure the people of Basilan that the culprits will be brought to speedy justice," Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Gary Olivar said.

Catholic bishops also condemned Tuesday’s incidents, particularly the bombing of Sta. Isabela Cathedral Church.

Basilan Bishop Martin Jumoad, however, asked the people to stay calm and cooperate and let authorities do their job in controlling the situation.

"I call my people to stay calm. I call the men and women in uniforms, we need the assistance to have neutralized the situation in the cathedral," he said, in an interview over Radio Veritas 846.

"The AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and PNP (Philippine National Police) should neutralize the rebel groups who have attacked the cathedral in Isabela City," the prelate added.

For his part, Cotabato Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo said the churches in Mindanao are in solidarity in condemning this brazen act.

He likewise called on the government to closely look or give priority in attaining peace in Mindanao, particularly in Basilan.

"Dapat isaalang-alang ng pamahalaan na magkaroon ng peace of mind ang mga taga-Basilan at sa buong rehiyon ng Mindanao. The government should understand the whole situation in Mindanao that lack peace and order," he said, in a separate radio interview.

"That’s a condemnable act," said Baguio Bishop Carlito Cenzon, adding that he is praying for Bishop Jumoad and the people of Basilan.

Aside from the number of casualties and injured, the bomb also caused damage to properties and a portion of the cathedral.

Isabela is one of two Christian regions in predominantly Muslim Basilan, the birthplace of the Abu Sayyaf, which has long been blacklisted by Washington D.C. as a terrorist organization because of its involvement in kidnappings, bombings and other acts of banditry. (Bong Garcia/Jill Beltran/VR/FP/AP/Sunnex)

Sayyafs blamed basilan attacks

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