Habal-habal driver nabbed in Zambo blast

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews/30 Nov) – A habal-habal driver, his sister and three other men were arrested Tuesday night in connection with the Sunday bomb explosion in a motel here that killed three and wounded 27 others, including two children.

Hussein Amajad Ahaddin alias Abu Tiih, however, “was arrested on the strength of a warrant of arrest for murder and multiple frustrated murders issued by the Zamboanga City Regional Trial Court Branch 17 for the Shop O’Rama and Shopper’s Central department stores twin bombing in October 17, 2002.” The said incident killed seven persons and wounded 150 others.

But Chief Supt. Felicisimo Khu, head of the Directorate for Integrated Police Operations for Western Mindanao, was quick to point out that Ahaddin, 38, and his supposed bomber cell composed of seven persons were also behind last Sunday’s bombing at Atilano’s Pension House in Barangay Canelar here.

Of the five arrested last Tuesday, only Ahaddin was presented to the media today as the prime suspect in Sunday’s bombing. The suspect is a Yakan native of Zamboanga and father of four children aged 4 to 11.

His sister, Ruaysa Asnawi, 40, was released earlier in the morning while the three others are still under interrogation.

“We have captured a member of the extremist Abu Sayyaf Group wanted for his involvement in a series of bombings and other atrocities in Western Mindanao,” Khu said.

In addition, Khu said that Ahaddin, under his alias Abu Tiih, “is one of the suspect ordered hunted for his involvement in the Malagutay karaoke bar bombing on October 2, 2002 that killed an American Green Beret commando and three other civilians, and wounded 25 other persons, including another American trooper of the Balikatan Force.”

“We have reliable information that the subject is one of the close followers of the late leaders Ustadz Abdullah Ajijul a.k.a. Abu Termije and Amilhanja Ajijul aka Alex Alvarez/Abu Jamil of the urban terrorist group Abu Sayyaf,” Khu said.

These persons, he said, carried out a “series of terroristic bombing activities in Western Mindanao.”

The arrest was conducted by joint elements of the Philippine National Police, Armed Force of the Philippines and the Philippine Center for Transnational Crime.

Ahaddin’s wife Harija, however, denied all the accusations hurled against her husband. She said her husband is a habal-habal driver in Muti and sometimes does other manual labor chores to earn a living. (Habal-habal is a motorcycle with an elongated seat to accommodate more passengers. It is common in the rural areas where passenger vehicles dare not go because of the bad roads.)

Another sister of Ahaddin, Junaida Arasai, insisted his brother is innocent. “Hindi siya masamang tao (He is not a bad person),” she said.

Arasai said that at the time of the arrest, his brother was with other villagers constructing a comfort room for the mosque in Barangay Muti.

She pointed out that had her brother been a felon, she should have already left Zamboanga City. But he instead chose to just stay and live a quiet life in Muti, 58 kilometers from downtown Zamboanga. The village is a Peace and Development Community of the United Nations Multi-donor Program as the area was affected by the war between the national government and the Moro National Liberation Front in the 1970s.

Arasai said that they are Yakans (a Muslim group predominantly found in Basilan) although the Ahaddin family has been in Zamboanga for a long time, earning their livelihood through farming in Muti. The suspect is the only male among six siblings. He has four children, all of whom have been enlisted with the anti-poverty Pantawid Program of the national government.

This is the second time that the suspect has been arrested and detained.

In 2002 he was also arrested in connection with the Shop O’Rama bombing and was detained for two months. The judge hearing the case ordered the suspect’s immediate release because his name was not in the arrest warrant at that time.

“We spent P150,000 to attend to his case before. My father had to sell a piece of our land to raise the money. P50,000 was used to pay the lawyer and P100,000 was spent for travel expenditures and giving largesse. You see, some people told us that we need to give money so that my brother can be released,” recounted Arasai.

When pressed by the media to explain the apparent “recycling” of the suspect, Khu explained that a new warrant of arrest dated March 30, 2010 was issued by the RTC, this time with the correct name of the suspect.

“We all know that their names sound alike. That is why a mistake was committed the first time the warrant was issued,” Khu explained.

He said that Ahaddin’s involvement in last Sunday’s incident is that “he was part of the group that planned the bombing.”

The suspect is a graduate of Bachelor of Science in Criminology at the Rizal Memorial College in Davao City, according to his sister. He reportedly finished schooling as a working student.

“He was not able to apply for a post with the PNP because we did not have the money to see through his application,” Arasai said.

His arrest came on the day Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo met with the Zamboanga City Peace and Order Council and security officials here. (With reports)