June 1, 2008

Off-grid aid project blasted

Amboanga City – Two people were killed and 21 injured yesterday when suspected terrorists detonated a bomb outside a USAID project office near an air base in the southern Philippines, officials said.

The explosion occurred shortly before 10 a.m. at the ground floor of the Air Materiel Wing Savings and Loan Association, Inc. building, also partly rented by the office of congress-woman Maria Isabelle G. Climaco, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Alliance for Mindanao Off-grid Renewable Energy.

The blast, just in front of Gate 1 of the Philippine Air Force’s Edwin Andrews Airbase, sent debris and shattered glass to nearby establishments.

Witnesses said the ground shook and parts of the building’s ceiling collapsed. The iron gate of the building was also ripped to pieces.

Sr. Supt. Lurimer Detran, acting police chief, said an initial post- blast examination showed that the improvised explosive may have been planted in one of several bags of civilian commuters lining up to ride a military C-130 cargo flight.

American bomb experts, who examined the blast site, noted that the explosive had TNT.

Many of the victims were chance passengers of the military’s cargo plane. “They usually stay outside the air base, where they wait for boarding,” Mr. Detran said.

Four workers of the US-funded electrification project and two members of Ms. Climaco’s staff were wounded, but were later declared out of danger.

“This is a terrible incident. Our thoughts go out to the injured and their families,” US Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney said in a statement issued by the embassy in Manila.

“We hope those who did this will be brought to justice,” she added.

US embassy officials would not say if they thought the USAID project was specifically targeted.

City social welfare and development officer Francisco L. Barredo said the local government will shoulder medical and burial expenses.

Within minutes of the blast, police began setting checkpoints along the city’s major roads.

Western Mindanao police regional officer Col. Jose Gucela said three men are now under custody, and are being investigated for their supposed involvement in the blast.

“A witness had seen retired Police Officer 2 Abdurazul Aji Saban jump onboard a white van near the site, right after the blast,” he told reporters.

The van was flagged down 16 kilometers west of the explosion site an hour after the bombing, the regional police official said.

The bombing occurred as candidates in the Muslim region’s Aug. 11 elections were in the city to file their candidacies.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, accompanied by the ambassadors of Malaysia, Libya, and Saudi Arabia, was in nearby Tawi-Tawi during the incident distributing cash to teachers and inaugurating several projects, said the Philippine Information Agency.

Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Pedrito Cadungog said the bombing was not intended to sabotage Mrs. Arroyo’s trip to Tawi-Tawi, noting that the President was not scheduled to land in Zamboanga.…

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