Sun, Feb 03, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Extortionists claim responsibility for tuna factory bomb

AFP , COTABATO, PHILIPPINES

A gang of extortionists preying on businessmen has claimed responsibility for bombing a tuna canning factory that killed three people in the southern Philippines, an official said yesterday.

Rodolfo Gantuangco, a town mayor in Kidapawan city on Mindanao Island, said he received a telephone call from the leader of the so-called al-Khobar gang a day after Wednesday's attack in nearby General Santos city.

"A member of the gang called me up on Thursday claiming responsibility for the bombing," he said, adding that he had already told police of the call and that an investigation was underway.

The gang, which is believed to have established links with the Abu Sayyaf militants, has been blamed for a string of bombings on Mindanao in the past two years targeting businesses, including a November attack on a mall in Kidapawan that killed one.

Gantuangco said that shortly after the November attack a man identifying himself as a gang member called him to demand money. He said he paid the 100,000 pesos (US$2,400) in fear for his life.

It was not clear why Gantuangco only came forward with the information three days after the latest attack.

Police have said the blast at the Philbest Tuna factory on Wednesday could be terrorism-related, although they have so far failed to name any suspects. Factory owners have rejected suggestions that the bombing was business-related.

Over the years the city has been rocked by a series of bombings, some of which have been blamed on the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf, a small gang of self-styled Islamic militants.

But many of the attacks are the result of feuds between rival business groups, especially in the local markets.

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