Sunday, July 21, 2019

Court convicts bomber in congressman's death

A PHILIPPINE court has convicted a man for a daring 2007 motorcycle bombing that killed a Muslim rebel-turned-congressman and three other people and wounded 10, including two legislators.

Judge Ralph Lee of the Regional Trial Court Branch 83 on Friday convicted Ikram Indama but acquitted two other key suspects in the Nov. 13, 2007, bombing that killed Rep. Wahab Akbar as he walked out of a lobby at the House of Representatives.

Indama, who has links to Muslim militants, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, according to a copy of Lee's decision.

Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Peter Ong said that Indama, a cousin of a notorious Abu Sayyaf extremist commander in the country's south, brought the motorcycle laden with a bomb and was identified through closed circuit television.

Ong said the attackers had also plotted to kill Akbar before, including the previous day, but he was absent from the lower house.

Former Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan, who survived the bombing with leg and back wounds, head burns and a shattered ear drum, welcomed the conviction but said government investigators should continue efforts to identify the other suspects involved in the attack.

"We should not be content with just being told that the one who planted the bomb in the motorcycle has been taken in," Ilagan said by phone. "The next question is, who ordered him to do so and what was the motive?"

Ilagan, now a social welfare undersecretary, recalled that she was about to board her van from the lobby when "a flash of light illuminated the area followed by a loud, loud explosion that forced me and my aide like a strong wind." Her driver died and she later realized she was hit when she felt her leg was bloodied as she lay in the darkness.

Akbar was reportedly among the original leaders of the Abu Sayyaf extremist group when it was established in the late 1980s on the southern island of Basilan. He later had a falling out with the militants, was elected Basilan governor and backed U.S.-backed offensives in his province against the militants, who are notorious for bombings, kidnappings and beheadings.

As governor, Akbar had been blamed for a brutal crackdown against Abu Sayyaf militants, who had plotted to retaliate against him, anti-terrorism authorities said.

The Abu Sayyaf has been blacklisted by the United States and the Philippines as a terrorist organization.

Akbar also headed a political dynasty that has long ruled Basilan, a poor, predominantly Muslim province that, under him, became a showcase of U.S.-assisted war on terrorism at the time. His political rivals were among the suspects in his killings but were later cleared by the court.

Three other suspects, Hajarun Jamiri, Benjamin Hataman and former police officer Bayan Judda, remain at large and are the targets of a police search, the court said.

Aside from threats posed by Abu Sayyaf gunmen, the southern Philippines has also faced intense political and clan rivalries that are often accompanied by bloodshed and assassinations. (AP)
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