- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 19, 2002

CEBU, Philippines A bomb ripped through a crowded commuter bus in Manila last night, killing three persons and injuring two dozen others in a nation already reeling from bombings linked to Muslim terrorists.

The attack at 10:15 p.m. local time came in the wake of two shopping center bombings in the southern Philippines on Thursday that left seven persons dead and more than 150 injured.

A grenade also exploded in the capital's Makati financial district early yesterday, but no one was injured in the blast, police said.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who earlier in the day visited the bombing sites in Zamboanga city on the southern island of Mindanao, acknowledged that the country's bomb attacks have gone from "bad to worse."

A bomb in Zamboanga on Oct. 2 killed a U.S. soldier and three others, and a spate of other bombings over the past few months have racked the southern Philippines.

Last week's bombing on the tourist island of Bali in neighboring Indonesia, which left nearly 200 dead and hundreds injured, have raised fears here of renewed terrorist activities.

While no one took responsibility for last night's bus bomb in Manila, Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes identified the Abu Sayyaf, an Islamic terrorist gang with links to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, and other extremists as the likely suspects.

Military intelligence sources have suggested that terrorists aligned with Jemaah Islamiyah, a militant Indonesian group whose members are among the leading suspects in the Bali bombings, could also be involved in the attacks.

Indonesia is the world's largest Islamic country, and Jemaah Islamiyah members are calling for a pan-Asian Islamic state linking Indonesia, the southern Philippines and Malaysia.

The group's spiritual leader, Abu Bakar Bashir, has been called in for questioning by Indonesian authorities, who had brushed off concern about terrorism before the Bali attack.

"Whether al Qaeda or Jemaah Islamiyah, still they have to use local terrorists" in the Philippines, said Mr. Reyes, the defense secretary.

In Manila, a sprawling metropolis of about 12 million people, police and soldiers were on heightened alert after the grenade explosion and the discovery of another grenade in Forbes Park, the city's most exclusive neighborhood and the home to many of the country's wealthiest citizens and dozens of foreign diplomats.

The bus bomb, however, targeted a lowly non-air-conditioned commuter bus.

"I was sleeping, then there was a very loud explosion," passenger Merlyn Villareal, a student who survived the blast unscathed, told a television reporter. "There was chaos, and I was pinned down."

The blast from the bomb, apparently placed in the back of the bus, tore off its roof.

Earlier in the day, anonymous tips led to bomb scares at Manila City Hall and an office building in the financial district.

Roilo Golez, the president's national-security adviser, encouraged city residents to go about their business.

But hundreds of policemen who were sent to back up the private security guards at major shopping malls indicated that the government was bracing for more attacks.

The Abu Sayyaf recently threatened attacks in retaliation for an ongoing military offensive against it.

About 260 American troops remain in Zamboanga after a six-month U.S. counterterrorism-training exercise intended to help Philippine troops fight the Abu Sayyaf gang.

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