Abu Sayyafs behind Sunday bombing in Zambo-A A +A
By Bong Garcia
Monday, November 28, 2011
ZAMBOANGA CITY (Updated) -- The al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf bandits are tagged in Sunday night's bombing that killed three people and injured 27 others in a budget hotel packed with wedding guests.
Investigators believe the blast and ensuing fire that gutted the two-storey Atilano Pension House in downtown Zamboanga City late Sunday was a terrorist strike, city police director Edwin de Ocampo said.
He said it was not linked to the wedding but many of the victims were from a group of more than 20 people who occupied six of the hotel's 35 rooms for a planned ceremony Monday.
The tragedy forced the wedding to be postponed, Zamboanga Mayor Celso Lobregat said.
The blast occurred in room 226 on the second floor of the hotel, instantly killing two people staying in two adjacent rooms.
A third body was found Monday on the ground floor, pinned by the cement slabs that collapsed from above, Lobregat said.
A woman was declared dead on arrival at the hospital while the other two fatalities, including a Marine soldier, were found dead at the explosion site.
Two of the wounded were in serious condition, one of them is an adult while the other is a child, and more than a dozen others remained confined in a hospital, he added.
City Health Officer Dr. Rodelin Agbulos said 17 of victims who have only suffered slight injuries were already discharged from the hospitals.
He said the conditions of eight others are not life-threatening, though they sustained fracture wounds.
De Ocampo said the blast was believed to be one of two simultaneous bombings planned by the Abu Sayyaf bandits. The other would have been on nearby Basilan island, where two explosives were separately found and safely defused by authorities in Isabela City on Sunday.
The hotel blast, caused by about 22 pounds (10 kilograms) of TNT powder, was one of the most high-profile bombings this year blamed on the Abu Sayyaf, which has been weakened by years of battle setbacks.
The bomb that exploded has the signature of the Abu Sayyaf bandits, Directorate for Integrated Police Operations-West Chief Director Felicisimo Khu said Monday.
The blast was so powerful that it caused the second floor to collapse, blew off the hotel roof and shattered glass panes and windows from nearby buildings, Mayor Lobregat said.
Khu said the bomb that exploded at the second floor is similar to the one that exploded, destroyed and gutted down Mon's Kitchenette in Isabela City last June 25 that killed two people and injured 14 others.
He said it is also similar to the explosive that exploded at the Red Palm Pension House last October 9 in Guiwan village, except that Sunday night's Improvised Explosive Device (IED) has a component that is capable of causing fire, probably gasoline.
“The type, nature and make up of these IEDs are associated with the ASG (Abu Sayyaf Group),” Khu said.
He said somebody called the police in Isabela City before the bomb was found in Basilan and the same caller again made a call after the pension house bomb explosion, saying “may pinaputok na kami (we just set a bomb off).”
The investigation is now focused on a man and a woman who checked-in at Room 222 around 7 p.m. but hurriedly left around 9 p.m. or 30 minutes before the explosion.
The man checked in as a certain Jeffrey while his woman-companion was not registered in the guest book, Khu said.
Lobregat said a certain Nap, a Marine soldier, listed as the guest at Room 226 where the bomb was believed to have exploded, who is not among the victims, could help them shed light on the bombing.
But Khu quickly clarified that Nap is not a bombing suspect.
The police are also reviewing the video captured by the pension house's closed-circuit television cameras as investigation continues, Lobregat said.
Lobregat also mobilized the resources of the local government to provide assistance to the victims.
Investigation revealed there were 80 registered guests at the pension house Sunday. However, not all of them were at the hotel when the bomb exploded.
Police Senior Inspector Cesar Memoracion said his local bomb squad recently informed the hotel owner to be on guard for a possible bomb attack, citing intelligence, which did not identify the source of the threat.
In January 2000, the hotel was rocked by a blast that killed three suspected Muslim militants assembling a bomb in a room, police said.
The Abu Sayyaf was founded in Basilan in the early 1990s as an offshoot of a violent Muslim insurgency that has been raging for decades.
US-backed offensives have weakened the group, which is blacklisted by Washington as a terrorist organization, but it remains a key security threat.
It has about 380 armed fighters and survives mostly on extortion and kidnappings for ransom.
Abu Sayyaf bandits are believed to be holding an American, an Indian, a Malaysian and a Japanese convert to Islam, along with a number of Filipino hostages in Basilan and nearby Jolo island. (Bong Garcia/AP/Sunnex)