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PIA Press Release

Abu Sayyaf bomb attack in Jolo kills nine, mostly Muslims

Koronadal, South Cotabato (29 September) -- An extortion letter and a mobile phone detonation device point an accusing finger at Abu Sayyaf as responsible for last month's bombing of a church-run cooperative store in the Sulu town of Jolo. The blast left nine people dead; 20 more were injured, most of them Muslims. A two-year-old girl was among those killed.

The blast was caused by a homemade bomb packed with ammonium nitrate and detonated by a cell phone hooked to a timer and hidden in the baggage counter of the busy cooperative building. This type of explosive has become a hallmark of Abu Sayyaf and has been used in many of its attacks over the last decade.

The explosion was so powerful that it totally destroyed the facade of the cooperative building and threw debris several hundred feet away. The scene of carnage and devastation reminded locals of television footage showing suicide bombings in Iraq.

Police went on a nationwide heightened security alert following the bomb blast.

Also, a letter sent to the cooperative store run by Catholic Marist priests, sought an unspecified amount of money. The letter was signed Abu Abdul Gawi, the nom de guerre of Ismin Sahiron, son of Abu Sayyaf leader Radulan Sahiron and his heir apparent.

The letter, which was left at a nearby pharmacy, told the store management of the impending attack that would serve as a warning to those who ignored the group's demands. Two mobile phone numbers were provided.

The bombing was described as both "religious and commercial." According to informers, the original target had been the Jolo Roman Catholic Cathedral. Abu Sayyaf settled, however, for the cooperative building because of the large number of customers who use it everyday. The terrorist group decided that the cooperative would provide greater impact as a target.

Even though it is believed that Abu Sayyaf chose the cooperative because of its ties to the Catholic Church, most of the victims were Muslims. Authorities point out that over the years the majority of Abu Sayyaf victims have been Muslim.

The cooperative attack was the second blast in Jolo in less than a month. Earlier, one person was killed and two dozen others were wounded when a powerful bomb exploded outside a military base there. The blast destroyed a karaoke bar within meters of the base. That bombing was also attributed to Abu Sayyaf.

The blast at the cooperative coincided with new government operations against Abu Sayyaf, which is linked to the al-Qaeda terrorist network in Jolo. Two weeks ago, troops captured an Abu Sayyaf weapons courier in Jolo. Shortly after that, security forces recovered a cache of Abu Sayyaf explosives and homemade bombs near a highway in Jolo's Indanan town.

The attack on the cooperative is believed to have been masterminded by the younger Sahiron, who is being groomed as the next Abu Sayyaf leader in the province of Sulu. Sahiron is considered among the area's most dangerous terrorists and is highly ranked on the Philippines' most-wanted list. A reward of P2.2 million (US$43,000) is being offered for information that could lead to his capture.

The younger Sahiron, who is in his late 20s, has been an active member of Abu Sayyaf for several years and has been involved in a number of atrocities committed by the group. The Regional Trial Court branch in Jolo has issued a standing warrant for his arrest for kidnapping and demanding ransom.

Sahiron has been identified as one of the Abu Sayyaf terrorists involved in the August 20, 2002, kidnapping of six Jehovah's Witness members. They were taken while on a door-to-door sale of cosmetics in Barangay Darayan, Patikul, Sulu. Two of the six victims, males, were beheaded.

Analysts believe Sahiron is being groomed as the successor to his father, Radulan Sahiron, as the head of Abu Sayyaf in Sulu. The older Sahiron, who is in his late 60s, is known widely as the one-armed leader of Abu Sayyaf. During a gunfight with security forces many years ago, Sahiron was badly wounded, and one of his arms was amputated.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo strongly condemned the terrorist attack on the cooperative building and ordered the military and police to leave no stone unturned in their search for the perpetrators and their efforts to bring them to justice.

Arroyo called on the nation to remain calm and vigilant. She told them that terror never sleeps, and everyone must be constantly aware of possible terrorist threats. She also called on Congress to pass the anti-terrorism bill, so that the country could contain and control the threat of terrorism more effectively. (MW/PIA 12) [top]

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