2002-10-17 00:00:00

Two bombs that exploded Oct. 17 in shopping centers in the southern Philippines have killed at least five people and injured 144 others.

According to a report by the Office of Civil Defense, the first bomb went off at 11:35 a.m. on the second floor of the Shop-O-Rama department store in Zamboanga City, 850 kilometers southeast of Manila. The second was 20 minutes later at nearby Shoppers´ Central. Both occurred at store baggage counters.

Lieutenant Colonel Danilo Servando told reporters at Camp Crame in Quezon City, near Manila, that yet other bombs were defused elsewhere - at Shop-O-Rama, Okay Bazaar, a government bank and a hotel also in the area.

Servando, public information officer for the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said the military´s primary suspect is the Abu Sayyaf group based in Basilan, led by Khadafy Janjalani. He explained that the bombs were the same type as those used in previous incidents blamed on the Muslim extremist group. Nonetheless, he added, the military is not discounting "other groups" also present in the area.

Zamboanga City is the base of the Philippine military´s southern command. Lieutenant General Narcisco Abaya assumed his post as commander there just hours after the explosions.

Earlier, on Oct. 2, a bomb that exploded near an army supply base in Zamboanga City killed an American soldier and three Filipinos. Philippine National Police chief Hermogenes Ebdane said then that the Abu Sayyaf were targeting American soldiers remaining at three military camps in the city. A six-month U.S.-Philippine military training exercise against the Abu Sayyaf in Jolo and Basilan, southwest of Zamboanga, ended in July.

After the Oct. 17 blasts, a nearby private computer school canceled classes and department stores not hit by the bombs closed. "It is like a ghost town," Monsignor David Alonzo, Zamboanga archdiocese´s vicar general, told UCA News. "The national road was closed, so people are staying indoors," Monsignor Alonzo reported over the phone.

However, the Immaculate Conception School he directs stayed open. "Parents were calling us," he said, "but we advised it is safer to keep the children in school until the normal dismissal time than to send them out right after the bombings."

Jesuit Father William Kreutz, president of Ateneo de Zamboanga University near Zamboanga´s cathedral, agreed. "It would be better if the students who are already on campus stay there," he told UCA News, even if the explosions were strong enough to be felt in the school four blocks away.

Units of the police and army have "intensified" checkpoints in the city, the defense office said. The office reported that the Zamboanga City Medical Hospital and Brent Hospital, where the wounded were taken, are "running short of blood supplies" and seek help from the national health department.

Intelligence reports say soldiers "picked up" 16 people from a hotel for questioning, including foreigners allegedly seen at the blast sites.


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