Monday, March 27, 2006

9 Killed, 20 Injured In Jolo Blast

A US and Filipino soldiers stand guard in Jolo island in Southern RP. A suspected Abu Sayyaf bomb exploded Monday 27 March 2006 in downtown Jolo, killing at least 9 mostly Muslim civilians, and wounded 20 others. (Zamboanga Journal/file)

ZAMBOANGA CITY (Zamboanga Journal / 27 Mar) At least 9 people were confirmed dead and 20 others wounded, many seriously, after a bomb explosion Monday ripped through a convenience store in the southern Philippine island of Jolo, an aide to President Gloria Arroyo said.

Secy. Jesus Dureza, Arroyo's peace adviser, said 9 people were killed, three of them still unidentified, when a homemade bomb exploded in downtown Jolo.

At least 20 others were injured and many of them are in critical condition at the Sulu Provincial Hospital.

"Based on the latest reports, at least 9 people were killed, three of them are still unidentified, and 20 people are also wounded, many of them seriously," Dureza told the Zamboanga Journal late Monday.

Other reports put the casualty toll to more than two dozens.

The blast coincided with government operation against the Abu Sayyaf militants, whose group is tied to al-Qaeda terrorist network in Jolo, about 950 kms south of Manila.

Security officials said the blast tore the second floor of a conveniece store in downtown Jolo around 1.15 p.m. and that most of the victims were Muslims.

Jolo military chief Brig. Gen. Alexander Aleo earlier said the blast had the handiwork of the Abu Sayyaf group, blamed for the series of bombings and kidnappings in the south.

"We are still investigating who were behind the blast, but the attack had the trademark of the Abu Sayyaf," Aleo said.

He said initial military reports suggested that the bomb was made from a deadly coktail of chemicals, possibly ammonium nitrate and shrapnel.

"It was probably ammonium nitrate, but we are still investigating the blast," he said.

Air Force Maj. Gamal Hayudini, a spokesman for the Southern Command, said troops were deployed in blast site and sealed the area as they searched for explosives, but so far found nothing. "The situation is under control and authorities have tightened security in Jolo," Hayudini said.

It was not immediately known if the blast was connected to ongoing military offensive against the Abu Sayyaf group or not.

A small group of heavily armed US military advisers stationed in Jolo island were spotted helping Filipino soldiers investigate the bombings, but no officials would like to give a statement about the role the Americans were involved.

Just two weeks ago, troops captured an Abu Sayyaf weapons courier Julkaram Hadjail on Jolo and security forces killed several militants in a separate clash on the island.

Security forces also recovered early this month a cache of Abu Sayyaf explosives and homemade bombs near a highway in Jolo's Indanan town where troops regularly pass.

Officials said the cache included plastic containers filled with ammonium nitrates and TNT and all rigged to electronic timers and cellular phones to trigger detonation when scavengers discovered them near a garbage dump on KM. 3 in the village of Tagbak . The highway links the towns of Indanan, Maimbung and Talipao which the military regularly use to transport troops.

Last month, one civilian was killed and more than two dozen people were wounded when a powerful bomb exploded outside a military base in Jolo island.

The blast destroyed a karaoke bar just several meters away from the base frequented by soldiers. The Abu Sayyaf also fired two rounds of rifle grenade near a military post in Jolo's Mount Karawan and killed a police officer and beheaded a civilian in downtown area.

The Abu Sayyaf is on a US list of terrorist organizations and Washington has offered as much as $10 million bounty for the capture of the group's chieftain Khadaffy Janjalani and other known leaders.

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