Wed, Oct 08, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Philippine police end detention center drama

HOSTAGE CRISIS A Muslim rebel being held at the center was shot dead after grabbing a gun from a guard, killing three people and forcing a three-hour standoff

REUTERS , MANILA

A Muslim rebel was shot dead by Philippine police in the toilet of a Manila detention center yesterday, ending a three-hour hostage drama in which three guards were killed and three wounded.

The attempted jailbreak -- following the escape of an Indonesian militant from the same facility in July -- is likely to compound concerns about security ahead of a visit to Manila by US President George W. Bush on Oct. 18.

Police said the rebel, Buyungan Bungkak, grabbed an M16 rifle from one of his minders just after dawn yesterday while being escorted to an exercise yard at the Philippine National Police (PNP) headquarters.

He shot the guard and two others who tried to stop him.

Bungkak, 20, held two officers hostage for about three hours before a police SWAT team used the cover of smoke and tear gas to storm an office building inside the police compound and kill him.

"He's dead," Criminal Investigation director Eduardo Matillano told reporters. "We shot him inside a toilet."

One member of the SWAT team and the two hostages were wounded during the rescue operation, he added.

Bungkak was being held with four other Abu Sayyaf rebels as suspects in the bombing of a shopping mall in October last year in the southern city of Zamboanga. None of others tried to flee.

The 300-strong Abu Sayyaf, which has its stronghold on the southern Sulu islands, is the most violent of four Muslim rebel groups in this largely Roman Catholic nation of 82 million.

Washington blacklists Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist organization with links to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network, which it blames for the attacks on the US on Sept. 11, 2001.

The police chief, Director-General Hermogenes Ebdane, ordered an inquiry into yesterday's incident, citing initial reports that Bungkak was not restrained when he was brought out of the detention center.

Ebdane said investigators were looking into reports that Bungkak regularly worked as an informal janitor in the detention center and had previously tried to escape when his guards were not watching.

He also removed from duty the officer responsible for the safekeeping of prisoners and ordered the transfer of the rest of the prisoners in the facility to another detention center inside the compound.

The PNP headquarters was the scene of a rebel jailbreak on July 14 when Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, an Indonesian member of the regional militant network Jemaah Islamiah, strolled from his cell. He has yet to be recaptured.

Two detained Abu Sayyaf rebels fled with al-Ghozi but one was later killed by soldiers on the southern island of Mindanao.

An investigation of al-Ghozi's escape blamed incompetence and a faulty cell door, but there are lingering suspicions that he was given inside help.

The ease of his escape embarrassed the Philippine government, which is a stalwart ally in the Washington-led war on terror.

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