- The Washington Times - Friday, October 18, 2002

CEBU, Philippines Two bombs ripped through crowded shopping centers in the southern Philippines yesterday, killing six persons and wounding nearly 150 others.

The Philippine military blamed the bombings on a group with ties to Osama bin Laden.

The blasts came less than a week after terrorists in neighboring Indonesia killed at least 190 persons, mostly foreign tourists, in a car-bomb attack on a beachfront club on the island of Bali.

Yesterday's explosions in the southern Philippine port city of Zamboanga occurred not far from the scene of an Oct. 2 bombing that killed four persons, including a U.S. soldier.

"It's the handiwork of terrorists," Lt. Col. Danilo Servando, a spokesman for the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said of yesterday's attacks.

The first bomb was detonated shortly before lunchtime at the Shop-o-Rama department store in the city of 600,000 people that is a key trading hub on the giant southern island of Mindanao. Thirty minutes later, a second bomb blast ripped through an adjacent shopping center.

Bloodied customers staggered out of the shops as soldiers poured in from a nearby military camp. Helicopters hovered and checkpoints were established with the hope of catching the bombers.

"We will get into the bottom of this," vowed Lt. Gen. Narciso Abaya, chief of the armed forces southern command, as he arrived on the scene.

Sixteen persons, including two Turks and a Malaysian, were taken in for questioning, but police refused to say whether they were suspects.

No one took responsibility for the blasts, but the military pointed the finger at the Abu Sayyaf, a violent group of Islamic separatists-turned-kidnappers formed more than a decade ago with support from bin Laden's al Qaeda network.

"We are looking at the group of Khadaffy Janjalani as primarily responsible for the incident," said Col. Servando, who added that the bombs were similar to those used in the attack earlier this month that killed the U.S. serviceman.

Janjalani, the younger brother of the now-deceased founder of the rebel group, has been indicted in the United States for the kidnappings and slayings of U.S. citizens, including missionary Martin Burnham and tourist Guillermo Sobero, who was beheaded by his Abu Sayyaf captors in June 2001.

The Abu Sayyaf was founded more than a decade ago by Abdurajak Janjalani, who studied in Libya and Saudi Arabia and later fought in Afghanistan alongside many men who now make up the core of al Qaeda's leadership. Philippine intelligence sources said the group received initial support from Jamal Mohammed Khalifa, a bin Laden brother-in-law, and received weapons and explosives training from Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, the now-jailed mastermind of the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center.

Suspicion for the Bali bombing has fallen on Jemaah Islamiyah, an Indonesia-based extremist group that envisions a pan-Islamic state stretching west from the Indonesian archipelago, through the southern Philippines and on to Malaysia.

"No one is suggesting that Philippine extremists have a hot line to like-minded people in Indonesia or Singapore or Malaysia," said a Western diplomat who asked for anonymity. "It's simply a matter of seeing what's going on next door and keeping in the fray."

The attacks in Zamboanga may involve a more personal agenda, analysts said, with Abu Sayyaf leaders under intense pressure from an ongoing military assault on their lair on Jolo, an island south of Zamboanga.

Eleven soldiers and dozens of rebels died in encounters there last week.

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