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Friday, 18 October, 2002, 07:24 GMT 08:24 UK
Philippines leader visits bomb site
Bomb damage in Zamboanga
The bombs exploded during the lunchtime rush hour
The Philippines President, Gloria Arroyo, has flown to the southern city of Zamboanga to meet military commanders following two bombs there blamed on Muslim militants.

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo (left) in Zamboanga
Arroyo has taken a tough line against terrorism
Minutes after President Arroyo arrived, hospital officials said one of the wounded in the bombings on Thursday had died, bringing the death toll to seven.

Mrs Arroyo later visited the site of the bomb blasts, which also injured at least 149 people.

Overnight, two grenade attacks in Manila - one of which exploded - further shook the jittery country but no-one was injured.

Bali link?

The bomb explosions occurred despite a heightened state of security in the Philippines, following the weekend bomb attacks on the Indonesian island of Bali, which killed almost 200 people.

But National Security Adviser Roilo Golez said it was premature to link the Philippines blasts with those in Bali.

Instead, military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Danilo Servando said early suspicion had fallen on a faction of the Muslim rebel Abu Sayyaf group, which is active in the south of the country.

The branch is headed by Khaddafy Janjalani, one of five leaders of the group who have been indicted by Washington for a mass kidnapping last year that left 18 hostages dead, including two Americans.

Officials said there were similarities between Thursday's blasts and a bomb attack on 2 October which killed four people, including an American. The explosive TNT was apparently used in both attacks.

But the list of possible suspects also includes regional group Jemaah Islamiah, which has been named by some governments as being involved in Saturday's bomb attacks on Bali.

Makati city mayor Jejomar Binay told local radio he did not think the grenade attacks were connected with Thursday's bombs, but rather the result of a personal quarrel.

Explosions

Thursday's bombs exploded at nearby shopping centres within minutes of each other.

At least one other bomb was found and defused.

Zamboanga police chief Mario Yanga told AFP news agency that police had put together a sketch of a woman believed to have left a bag containing a bomb outside one of the stores, Shop-O-Rama.

The attacks came just hours after the new head of the army southern command, Lieutenant General Narciso Abaya, assumed office, vowing to crush the Abu Sayyaf.

The group recently threatened attacks in retaliation for a military offensive against it.

Police have blamed both the 2 October explosion, and another blast two weeks ago in a Zamboanga karaoke bar on the Abu Sayyaf.

Both the US and the Philippines governments have linked the group to the al-Qaeda network, but most analysts agree it is simply engaged in kidnap for ransom.

US forces have been helping to train Filipino soldiers to fight the Abu Sayyaf guerrillas.

See also:

17 Oct 02 | Asia-Pacific
15 Oct 02 | Asia-Pacific
11 Oct 02 | Asia-Pacific
22 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
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