Sun, Jun 13, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Bomb disrupts Philippine independence celebrations

TERRORISM A bomb disposal expert was killed and two others were injured while trying to defuse the homemade device, which was planted close to a popular restaurant

AP , JOLO, PHILIPPINES

Suspected Muslim extremists planted a homemade bomb in a southern Philippine town to disrupt Independence Day celebrations early yesterday, killing a bomb disposal expert who was trying to defuse the device, an army commander said.

A soldier and a police officer controlling the crowds were injured in the blast.

Local residents found the bomb inside a black plastic bag at the gate of the Plaza Rizal in Jolo town close to a popular restaurant and alerted the authorities who sent an army bomb squad to defuse it.

Brigadier-General Gabriel Habacon, head of an anti-terrorist task force in Jolo, said intelligence reports indicated the Muslim extremist Abu Sayyaf group planned to set off a bomb during the town's Independence Day celebrations.

The reports prompted authorities to transfer the celebrations from the plaza to the municipal hall compound. The bomb, fashioned from an 81-mm mortar shell, is similar to those manufactured by Muslim separatists and the Abu Sayyaf, which is active in Jolo, military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Daniel Lucero said.

He said the bomb was "probably remote controlled."

Witnesses said a sergeant from the bomb disposal team was cutting wires attached to the device when it exploded. His body parts were strewn across the street.

Shrapnel hit an air force soldier and a police officer who were trying keep onlookers away from the site, the witnesses said.

The airman was flown to a military hospital in the nearby port city of Zamboanga and the police officer was taken to a local hospital, Lucero said.

Doctors said the two men were under observation. The airman suffered chest wounds and the police officer was hit in the head, they said.

Earlier this month, a suspected Abu Sayyaf member was arrested with bomb-making materials, including 81-mm mortar shells.

Naval intelligence agents arrested the suspect, Alzhezar Jila, following a tip-off from an informant who claimed the Abu Sayyaf planned to bomb a ferry between Jolo and Zamboanga.

The Abu Sayyaf has been blamed for several bomb attacks. The group also has claimed that it bombed a ferry off Manila that caught fire after an explosion on Feb. 27, killing more than 100 people.

Police have arrested the alleged ferry bomber, but investigators have found no forensic evidence backing the guerrillas' claim.

Jolo is about 950km south of Manila.

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