Gov’t officials at a loss over Zambo bombing

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews / 30 Nov) – Government officials appear to be at a loss over the identity and motive of the perpetrators of last Sunday’s bomb explosion incident here that killed three persons and wounded 27 others, including two children, and the foiled bombing incidents in the neighboring island of Basilan on the same day.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo pointed out to extortion as possible motive but was not sure of such an analysis while an official of the Philippine National Police linked the incidents to the kidnap-for-ransom group Abu Sayyaf.

Zamboanga City Mayor Celso Lobregat, on the other hand, did not venture an analysis when asked of the possible motives and the perpetrators. He instead said during a press conference held Tuesday: “Why ask us? We’re not the ones behind the bombing.”

In the same meeting, Robredo said that extortion may be the motive behind the recent bombing incidents. He told MindaNews: “They are extorting the local governments.” Asked who he was referring to, the secretary said: “Terrorist groups.”

Robredo said that local officials in Basilan had been receiving extortion letters. “They are extorting from local government with threats of bombing,” he explained.

He admitted, however, that the extortion angle is not that clear.

“The incidents in Isabela and Zamboanga are different from those in the other provinces in the region,” Robredo said.

He explained that incidents in Sulu, for example, are “not programmed and are not directed by someone. But in this area, there is a director.”

Robredo directed the PNP to tighten security measures in the city and in Isabela. (See related story.)

Carlos Atilano, owner of the pension house where the bomb exploded, said he did not receive any extortion letter.

In another press conference held the previous day, the Philippine National Police (PNP) pointed out the possibility of the Abu Sayyaf as the perpetrator on the basis of the type of explosive materials used in the bombs.

Senior Supt. Edwin de Ocampo, acting city police director, said during Monday’s press conference that TNT (trinitrotoluene) was used as the main ingredient for the bomb. He explained that this was the same ingredient used by the Basilan-based Abu Sayyaf group under Puruji Indama. De Ocampo, however, did not present other evidence to pin the group.

He said that the ASG could have planned the simultaneous bombing in Zamboanga and Isabela except for the early discovery and detonation of the two bombs in Isabela.

The Isabela incident appears to be directed at Parouk Majirul, an executive assistant of Basilan Gov. Jum Akbar. According to the PNP, one of the two improvised bombs was found inside a blue plastic bag near a hardware store owned by Majirul in Barangay Mabarakat. The other was found attached to his motorcycle in Barangay Aguada.

“It is clear that the Abu Sayyaf Group was demanding something from the owner,” said Chief Supt. Felicisimo Khu, head of the Directorate for Integrated Police Operations for Western Mindanao. He told reporters that if the owner will not give in to the demand, “they bomb the place.”

This is the second bombing incident that rocked this city in a span of 49 days from the October 9 twin bomb explosions that wounded nine persons.

For Isabela City, the discovery and eventual detonation of the two improvised bombs is also the second bombing incident since the June 25 bombing of the Mon’s Kitchen Restaurant that killed two people and wounded 15 others.

Meanwhile, authorities are also looking into the reasons for the presence of some elements of the Philippine Marines in the hotel where the bombing incident occurred.

“We want all people who are there to account for themselves,” Lobregat said.

Atilano told Robredo that the occupant of Room 226, where the bomb was planted, was a Marine assigned in Tawi-tawi and identified only as a certain Nap, a regular customer of the pension house. Two of those wounded in the blast were also identified as elements of the 5th Marine Battalion Landing Team (MBLT5) – Sgt. Jerick Galang and Pvt. John Lloyd Librando.

A MindaNews source from Tawi-tawi confirmed that five Marines from MBLT5 were on an official break and checked in at the said pension house. The same source said that two were wounded and the three suffered loss of hearing. (With reports from Vema Antham)