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Police Look for Philippine Bomber

October 21, 2002

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ZAMBOANGA, Philippines (AP) _ Police investigating a deadly weekend bombing near a Roman Catholic shrine in the southern Philippines were working with a sketchy description of the suspect on Monday: a man about 17 years old wearing a black T-shirt and jeans.

The explosion _ the nation’s fifth deadly bombing this month _ killed a Filipino soldier and injured 18 other people Sunday night at Fort Pilar, a historic site in the predominantly Christian port city of Zamboanga, about 530 miles south of Manila.

The popular landmark includes the century-old remains of a Spanish fort, a shrine to the Virgin Mary and an open-air worshipping area where Mass is celebrated.

A 13-year-old boy told police that he saw a young man in a black T-shirt and jeans park a bicycle loaded with explosives near the fort’s gate. The suspect left shortly before the bomb went off as the shrine area was crowded with worshippers, he said.

``He was about 17 years old. Parked the bike and left and then there was explosion. It was the bicycle that exploded,″ the boy told reporters.

The blast demolished stalls selling food, candles and other religious items outside Fort Pilar. Some of the stands were reduced to scraps of splintered wood and twisted plastic. The ground was splattered with blood.

After analyzing bomb fragments and debris from the bus attack, police concluded that the device was made of TNT and tetryl _ explosives that are readily available in the Philippines for mining and quarrying, said Restituto Mosqueda, senior superintendent of the national police’s crime laboratory group.

With investors spooked by the blast, the nation’s main index closed down 1.2 percent _ its lowest finish since Nov. 14.

Zamboanga was the target of twin blasts that tore through two department stores last week. Investigators have yet to find the perpetrators of those explosions, which killed seven people and injured more than 150.

Earlier this month, another Zamboanga bombing killed three people, including a U.S. Green Beret commando. Officials blamed that blast _ which injured 25 others, including another American soldier _ on the Muslim extremist group Abu Sayyaf, which Philippine and U.S. officials say is linked to al-Qaida.

Chief Inspector Antonio Clarito, operations chief of Zamboanga City police, said he suspected that the Abu Sayyaf was behind Sunday’s bombing.

``The Abu Sayyaf is one of the groups being eyed because there is no other group more capable of doing this than them,″ Clarito said.

Of the five deadly bombings that have rocked the country this month, killing 21 people, four were in the southern Philippines, while one blew up a bus last Friday in Quezon City in metropolitan Manila, killing two and injuring 20. No arrests have been made.

Authorities investigating the bus bombing were looking at the possibility of the involvement of the Muslim militant group Jemaah Islamiyah, believed to be al-Qaida’s main ally in Southeast Asia.

Jemaah Islamiyah is suspected in the Oct. 12 nightclub bombing in Bali, Indonesia, that killed more than 180 people and injured 300.

But in an interview with ANC television, National Security Adviser Roilo Golez declined to discuss the possibility that several militant groups might be working together.

``We are analyzing this and we are analyzing this very quietly,″ Golez said.

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