Thu, Nov 15, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Manila police chief says Akbar target of blast

AFP AND AP , MANILA

Mayor Cherry Lyn Akbar, the widow of the late congressman Wahab Akbar, touches her husband's coffin during his burial at Isabela, the capital of the island province of Basilan in the southern Philippines, yesterday. Akbar was killed in Tuesday's bombing outside the Philippine Congress.

PHOTO: AP

A controversial Muslim congressman was the target of a powerful bomb outside the Philippine House of Representatives that killed him and two others, police said yesterday.

Wahab Akbar, one of the most influential figures in the nation's restive south, died in hospital on Tuesday night as doctors fought to save his life after the blast. A driver and a congressional aide were also killed.

"We now have evidence of a bomb ... the cellphone and pieces of nails used as shrapnel," Manila police chief Geary Barias said.

"They could see their target," he said. "Those circumstances would show the target was Congressman Akbar."

Philippine Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said the entire House security staff had been suspended and replaced by special police commandos.

Nine people were injured in the blast, which hit the south lobby of the sprawling Batasan complex in Quezon City on Tuesday night just minutes after most congressmen had left for the evening.

Akbar was known to be a former member of the Abu Sayyaf who later turned against the group and helped the government in its anti-terrorism campaign against the militants on the southern island of Basilan, Barias said.

Akbar, who was 47, twice served as governor of Basilan, a jungle-covered southern island used by the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf as a base to launch kidnappings and bombing raids.

He had spoken in the past of his links with Abubakar Janjalani, an Afghan-trained Islamic firebrand who founded the Abu Sayyaf initially to fight for an independent state in the Philippine south.

After Janjalani was killed in a gunbattle with police in 1998, Akbar severed ties with the group and later joined the mainstream to seek elective office.

The police chief said cellphone text messages, purportedly from the Abu Sayyaf, were circulating that claimed responsibility for the bombing but added: "We are not taking that hook, line and sinker."

It was the first time that the Philippine Congress had been targeted by such an attack, and lawmakers said yesterday they wanted to get the House back to work as soon as possible.

"We want to show that everything is normal," House Speaker Jose de Venecia said. "We don't want to show we are scared of the terrorists or assassins who did this criminal and dastardly act."

In the Basilan capital of Isabela hundreds of people lined the streets, many openly weeping, as Akbar's body was borne by a pickup truck to its place of burial.

"We have lost a great leader -- a leader who united Muslims and Christians, a leader who crushed the Abu Sayyaf. Now we are apprehensive the Abu Sayyaf will come back," said Chris Puno, a spokesman for Akbar.

Meanwhile, a congressional committee dominated by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's allies, threw out an impeachment bid against her yesterday and vowed to stick to a one-year ban on other such attempts.

The House Justice Committee dismissed a complaint against Arroyo over alleged corruption and betrayal of public trust on a technicality for "lack of substance" -- the third year in a row that they have saved her from an opposition-led impeachment attempt.

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