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Bus Bomb Rocks Manila, Killing Three

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Bus bomb rocks Manila, killing three

MANILA, Philippines, Oct. 18 — A bomb ripped through a bus in suburban Manila late Friday, killing at least three people and injuring 23 others, hours after a grenade blast in the capital’s financial district and a day after two deadly bombings in the southern Philippines.

THERE WAS no immediate claim of responsibility for the bus blast, but officials have said the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf group was the most likely suspect for Thursday’s noontime bombings in downtown Zamboanga city that killed seven people and injured more than 150.

The bus explosion took place at 10 p.m. on the EDSA highway, one of the capital’s main thoroughfares, in Quezon City, despite tightened security following the earlier attacks.

“I was sleeping, then there was a very loud explosion,” teenage student Merlyn Villareal, who was aboard the bus but was not injured, told GMA7 television as she fought back tears. “There was chaos, and I was pinned down. I was kicked around and found myself outside the bus.”

‘HANDIWORK OF EVIL MINDS’

The explosion in the back of the blue Golden Highway company bus ripped off its roof and part of its sides and sent debris flying 20-30 yards away. Two hours later, workers still had not managed to retrieve one badly mangled body from the vehicle, which had roughly 50 to 60 seats.

“This is the handiwork of people with evil minds,” national police operations chief Vidal Querol said.

Napoleon Castro, a Quezon City police official, said officials believed the person who brought the bomb aboard the bus was among the dead.

“It was a very powerful bomb for this bus to be wrecked like this,” Castro said.

Traffic was backed up more than a mile on the highway, which is several lanes across where the explosion took place.

NO IMMEDIATE SUSPECTS

Querol said there were no immediate suspects and that investigators were gathering fragments from the bomb to analyze.

National Security Adviser Roilo Golez said the way bombing was carried out “is very similar” to the Dec. 30, 2000, simultaneous bomb attacks in Manila that killed 22 people and were linked to Jemaah Islamiyah, a shadowy, Southeast Asian-based Muslim group suspected of links to al-Qaida.

“The only conclusion we can make is that we should be on the alert and that the public should help,” Golez said.

He said top government officials will meet Saturday to assess the situation.

No one has been charged for the 2000 bombings that hit several public facilities, including a train station. But Fathur Rohman Al-Ghozi, an Indonesian, told police he helped plan them. He pleaded guilty to explosives possession charges in April and was sentenced to 10-12 years in prison.

He was arrested in January and led police to a buried stash of 1.2 tons of TNT that allegedly were to be used for attacks on Western targets in Singapore. Philippine prosecutors said Monday they have strong evidence to charge two foreigners and two Filipinos who allegedly provided money to buy the explosives.

Like Al-Ghozi, the four are believed to be members of Jemaah Islamiyah.

The country, already jittery, was put further on edge when a grenade exploded early Friday in Manila’s financial district. The grenade caused no injuries and slight damage to one vehicle. A second unexploded grenade was found nearby.

While officials said they believed that explosion was unrelated to terrorism, Manila Mayor Lito Atienza imposed a night curfew in the capital for everyone under age 18.

Golez said top government officials will meet Saturday to assess the situation following the bus blast.

Possible links tying Jemaah Islamiyah to the recent bombing in Bali underscore the troubling rise of militant Islam in a region better known for its moderate Muslim population and relative tolerance.

Thailand: This mostly Buddhist country has vowed support in the war on terrorism, but has kept a low profile in the effort, perhaps out of concerns for its lucrative tourism industry. In contrast to neighboring countries, Thailand has made few, if any, terror-related arrests, even though local reports suggest that the militant group Jemaah Islamiyah has been making inroads in southern Thailand, where there are a concentration of Muslims. A strong U.S. ally in the Vietnam and Korean wars, Bangkok takes part in annual military exercises that include American, Singaporean and Malaysian troops. This year, the exercises included anti-terrorism training. Since the deadly attack on Indonesia’s resort area in Bali, Thailand has announced increased security at its resorts.

Philippines: This former U.S. colony quickly emerged as a staunch supporter in the U.S.-led war on terrorism, in part because the majority Catholic country has long been battling Muslim militant groups on its southern islands. The Abu Sayyaf, a separatist group with at least tentative al-Qaida links, was the target of a six-month "anti-terror" campaign with U.S. military training and backing. Manila and Washington say the campaign killed key leaders and left the group in disarray. Some U.S. military personnel, who remain in the south, reportedly on a humanitarian mission, were apparent targets of a recent bombing. One U.S. soldier was killed. The rebel New People’s Army, which operates mainly in the north, is also on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations.

Brunei: This oil-rich country is an Islamic monarchy. The Sultan is head of state with full executive authority, including emergency powers. To ensure support from a population of mostly moderate Muslims, the government provides citizens generous salaries and services, paid for with oil and gas profits. Brunei, noted for its stability, holds routine military exercises with the United States. In August, it hosted the annual meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (pictured above) and signed onto the ASEAN pact with the United States to “prevent, disrupt and combat” terrorism. However, its role in that battle has been low-profile. Among the goals of the Islamic group Jemaah Islamiyah is to create a theocratic state across Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the southern Philippines.

Malaysia: The country’s secular government is controlled by ethnic Malays, most of them moderate Muslims. A Chinese minority dominates commerce. The long-time ruling party works hard to keep ethnic and religious tensions at bay, using sweeping internal security laws to target trouble as well as political opposition, including Islamic fundamentalists. Malaysia has arrested dozens on terror-related charges -- some members of the pan-Asian Jemaah Islamiyah and others members of a local group known as the Malaysia Mujahiddeen Group. Kuala Lumpur extradited Admed Ibrahim Bilal (pictured above), an American citizen allegedly connected to an al-Qaida cell, after Bilal had spent nearly a year in Malaysia. Nonetheless, President Mahathir Mohamad has been critical of U.S. policy on Israel and Iraq, saying it provokes already angry Muslim populations.

Singapore: This Chinese-majority city state with a Malay-Muslim minority has long suppressed conflict among ethnic and religious groups. Sandwiched between much larger Muslim-majority countries — Malaysia and Indonesia — Singapore has a strong interest in seeing that militant Islam does not take root in the region. It has been a staunch ally in the U.S.-led war on terror, providing intelligence, suspects and a high security presence for U.S. military vessels. Singapore has used its sweeping Internal Security Act to detain at least 36 people on terror-related charges. Of those, 21 were said to be members of Jemaah Islamiyah -- which allegedly is linked to al-Qaida -- and accused of planning to attack the U.S. Embassy as well as water pipes which bring in some 350 million gallons a day to Singapore.

Indonesia: Indonesia has been considered Asia’s weakest link in the war on terror. The country suffers religious and ethnic violence, separatist movements and political and economic disarray. A vast territory with thousands of islands, many of them uninhabited, Indonesia is extremely difficult to govern or search for fugitives. It has the largest Muslim population in the world. While most are moderate and the government is secular, there are pockets of extreme Islam and several groups are believed to have links to al-Qaida. President Megawati Sukarnoputri has variously expressed support for and ambivalence about the United States campaign against terrorism. The deadly bombing on the resort island of Bali -- a largely Hindu enclave -- reinforced concerns that the country is a soft target for extremists.

FROM BAD TO WORSE

Earlier Friday, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo visited the Zamboanga bombing sites, saying the country’s bomb attacks have gone from “bad to worst” and urged Filipinos to help fight terrorists.

“Terrorism cannot survive for long in an unfriendly environment,” Arroyo told reporters. “Let us give terrorism the unfriendly environment.”

Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes speculated that Zamboanga bombings may have been staged by the Abu Sayyaf or the Muslim separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front to either retaliate for or divert attention from simultaneous military offensives against the guerrillas on two fronts in the south.

The Abu Sayyaf recently threatened attacks in retaliation for an ongoing military offensive against it, and has been blamed for an Oct. 2 bombing in Zamboanga that killed four people, including an American Green Beret.

Some 260 American troops remain in Zamboanga in the violence-wracked southern Philippines following a six-month U.S. counterterrorism training exercise aimed at helping Filipino troops fight the Abu Sayyaf. No foreigners were believed to have been injured in Thursday’s bombings.

© 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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