Sunday, March 05, 2006

News Blackout In Basilan Mayor Slay

BASILAN ISLAND (Zamboanga Journal / 05 Mar) Police have maintained a news blackout into the killing of a mayor in the southern Philippine island of Basilan, but provincial officials said authorities are facing a blank wall into the motives of the attack.

Mayor Luis Biel, of Isabela City, was shot dead Friday inside the City Hall and the lone attacker Javer Gani was himself killed by security forces, but four other people were wounded in the cross-fire.

Officials said Biel was shot while his group was about to leave the building for lunch. A man, believed to be the back-up for the attacker, had fled after he was chased by Biel's bodyguards outside the City Hall.

Gani's body was recovered by his relatives.
A military report on Sunday said Gani was a student of the Basilan State College and allegedly a henchman of a local politician and that the gun he used in the attack was reportedly owned by a policeman in Isabela City.
Provincial police officials did not give any statements and had ignored telephone calls by reporters. Police investigators in Basilan have refused to give the progress of their investigations.

Basilan is part of the Muslim autonomous region, but regional police officials also refused to speak to reporters about the killing.

But Christopher Puno, the spokesman for Basilan Gov. Wahab Akbar, said the police are still investigating the motive of the killing or whether this was connected to Biel's planned demolition of a 13-year old mosque in Isabela City.

"We still don't know the motives of the killing. We are awaiting reports from the police, but they said the investigation is still going.
"We don't know if the Abu Sayyaf was involved in the attack, or was it connected to the planned demolition of the mosque, or whether this had anything to do with politics or something else," Puno said.

Police would not say who ordered the assassination or why Biel was killed.

Last month, angry Muslims protested an impending order by Biel to demolish one of the oldest mosques in Isabela City -- the Ihya Unsunna mosque -- to pave the way for the construction of a market depot.

It was unclear if the failed demolition of the mosque had any connection to the killing.

Ustadz Omar Suhod, one of the rally organizers, said demolishing the mosque is an attack to Islam. "This is our place of worship, this is the house of God and destroying the mosque will only bring troubles because the Muslims are angry. We appeal to our leaders to please spare the mosque," he said in the past.
Suhod also did not answer phone calls on Sunday.

Angry Muslims have threatened to attack the island's only Catholic cathedral if the mosque in downtown Isabela City is demolished.
"We will fight for right. There will be bloodshed is they destroy the mosque. Angry Muslims may also do the same to the Catholic Church downtown," Maruan Tandi, a protester, previously told reporters.
The protesters also tried to storm the house of Isabela City Mayor Luis Biel during the February 13 rally, but they backed out after a group of unidentified men armed with M16 automatic rifles rushed to secure the area.
Muslims villagers were guarding the mosque everyday to prevent its demolition. Those who were guarding the mosque said armed men were seen roaming the area and told the police and military authorities about it.
Aside from the Ihya Unsunna mosque, there are also dozens of mosques in Isabela City, where about 60,000 Muslims pray.

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