Philippines blasts raise fear of bloody campaign

Click to follow

Fears deepened yesterday that South-east Asia may be facing a long series of bloody terror attacks after a series of bombs ripped through a crowded shopping centre in the southern Philippines, killing six people.

Fears deepened yesterday that South-east Asia may be facing a long series of bloody terror attacks after a series of bombs ripped through a crowded shopping centre in the southern Philippines, killing six people.

Government officials quickly blamed Muslim militants in the mostly Roman Catholic country. They also raised the possibility that the latest attack was the work of Jamaah Islamiya, the group that has been linked to last weekend's carnage at a nightclub on the Indonesian island of Bali.

"The perpetrators are more or less connected, or there is some connection in bombings occurring in the region," a foreign ministry spokesman told reporters in Manila, the Philippines' capital.

A pair of explosions tore into a commercial complex in the city of Zamboanga during the lunch hour yesterday. The first explosion, near a vegetable shop, was followed by a second blast about 30 minutes later. At least two other bombs in the Shop-o-Rama mall were later defused.

The city is located on the politically volatile island of Mindanao, which has been the scene of a violent rebellion by Muslim activists. It is home to about four million Muslims in a nation of 76 million.

There is also a significant American presence in the region. About 260 US troops are stationed in Zamboanga, the remnants of a 1,000-strong force deployed there by President George Bush to assist the Philippines military in countering the rebels.

Witnesses at the scene of the explosions reported carnage with blood-smeared floors and shattered glass.

One victim was decapitated. A man's body was catapulted through a window. After the first blast, shouts rang out of "Run, run. Another explosion!". Among the victims were two policemen and four shoppers. "All threat groups are suspect in this incident, including the Jamaah Islamiya ... and others," Lieutenant-Colonel Danilo Servando, a spokesman for the armed forces, said, referring to the group based in Indonesia that some have linked to al-Qa'ida.

Lieutenant General Narciso Abaya, newly installed southern military command chief, told reporters: "The bombings are apparently co-ordinated. They are targeting crowded places where there are plenty of civilians."

The bombing, as well as the weekend attack on Bali in which more than 180 people, most of them foreign tourists, died, comes barely a week after American officials raised its terror threat rating for all of South-east Asia and warned governments there to be prepared for a dramatic escalation in attacks.

US intelligence concluded some weeks ago that al-Qa'ida cells had chosen Indonesia and possibly other countries in the region to regroup after being chased from Afghanistan by US troops in the wake of last September's terrorist attacks in America.

Concern is mounting that the sudden eruption of violence in the region could presage new attacks on US soil.

The Mayor of Zamboanga, Maria Clara Lobregat, said: "One can only weep at what these terrorists have done."

Medical workers said that at least 20 of those wounded in the Shop-o-Rama complex were in critical condition at the city's main hospital.

Police said no foreigners had been hurt. Security measures in the city had already been tightened because of the Bali tragedy.

Police said last night that they were interviewing 16 people in connection with the attack, including two Turkish nationals and a Malaysian. Local media reports said four Pakistanis were also being questioned.

Comments