Saturday, August 07, 2010

Police launched manhunt for more suspects in Zamboanga airport bombing

The decapitated remains of suicide bomber Reynaldo Apilado. (Contributed photo)

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Aug. 7, 2010) – The Philippine police have mounted a manhunt for at least three men implicated in suicide bombing that left two people dead and two dozens more wounded in Zamboanga City in Mindanao.

Police said the target of Thursday attack was Sulu Governor Sakur Tan, who was among the injured. The bomber, Reynaldo Apilado, and another man, Hatimil Haron, were killed in the blast.

Authorities are investigating whether Haron, a native of Basilan province, was an accomplice of the bomber, who lived on a seaside village of Caragasan in Zamboanga City.

National police chief Jesus Versoza said they were investigating whether the attack was connected to the failed assassination of Tan last year in Sulu. “We are looking into this now and ordered a manhunt for three men who are all accused in the bombing last year,” he said.

Tan survived a roadside bombing in Patikul town, but ten of his companions, including a town mayor, were wounded in the attack blamed to the militant group Abu Sayyaf.

Versoza said two of the bombers captured in Sulu following a firefight with police forces and the duo implicated Temogen Tulawie, Muamar Astali and a third man identified only by his first name, Abs, as their accomplice.

“The three men are facing multiple frustrated murder and illegal possession of explosives. They are at-large. Police forces are hunting down the three men,” he said.

Police said Apilado’s neighbors claimed he previously travelled to Cotabato and Pagadian City, where Tulawie was believed to be hiding. Tulawie, a defeated congressional aspirant, went into hiding after the failed assassination of Tan in May 13, 2009.

Tulawie, also a political activist, is a member of a group called the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society in Sulu and was active in the past in street demonstration against the presence of US troops training Filipino soldiers in the province.

Tan said more witnesses to the latest bombing have come out in the open and implicated several people as behind the attack. “Witnesses are coming out now and telling authorities that some people are also involved in the bombing,” he said, adding, authorities are now investigating the reports.

Regional police chief Edwin Corvera said they also received information from people claiming to have knowledge or were involved in the failed assassination of Tan. He said most of the information was passed to them through a police hotline they put up on Friday.

One information allegedly tagged Tulawie as behind the airport bombing while another implicated two defeated town mayors in Sulu who are known political foes of the governor, and several policemen and that a bounty was put up by the mastermind to assassinate Tan. A third politician in Sulu, who lost in the May elections, was also implicated in the bombing.

Versoza said they were investigating all these reports. The National Bureau of Investigation also started its own probe into the failed assassination of Tan.

Tan, a known philanthropist and a religious man, was re-elected in May as governor of Sulu, one of five provinces under the Muslim autonomous region.
Marine General Benjamin Dolorfino, a regional military commander, confirmed that Apilado was carrying the bomb when it went off outside the Zamboanga International Airport just when Tan was getting out, but said authorities were still investigating whether there was a second man who could have remotely detonated the explosive.

“Authorities are reviewing the CCTV footage from the airport security camera,” Dolorfino said. “You can see Reynaldo on the video (footage) and he was just standing outside the airport arrival area just before the blast. He was just loitering there.”

Authorities did not release copy of the video to the media, but one television cameraman claimed that he was shown a part of the footage by a policeman and it was clear enough that the bomber waited for Tan to come out from the airport and his backpack exploded.

“Reynaldo Apilado was just there standing in front of the exit gate of the arrival area and when Tan came out, the bomber casually walked a bit and there was this huge flash of light and an explosion followed and then chaos,” he said. (Mindanao Examiner)

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