Bomb Attacks Hit Manila

M A N I L A, Philippines, Dec. 30, 2000 -- A string of powerful bombs ripped into the Philippine capital at midday today local time, killing at least 14 people, injuring as many as 100 others and sending thousands of panicked residents rushing from buildings in fear of more blasts.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack, but there was noshortage of theories. Police made one arrest and hinted thatextremist Muslim rebels could be involved. A presidential spokesmanimplicated communist rebels. And the powerful political oppositionhinted at unidentified forces who want to distract the populationfrom President Joseph Estrada’s impeachment trial.

A statement from Estrada’s office appealed for calm and saidpolice would guard public areas, particularly transportationcenters.

Five blasts hit Manila in all, the first four — on a train and abus and at an airport and a park — nearly simultaneously.

Train Blown Apart

The explosion on the train was the most destructive: It blew thelight railway transport train’s front coach apart as it pulled intoManila’s Blumentritt Station at noon. At least nine people died andscores were hurt.

Shattered holiday gifts and lunch baskets were strewn for yardsaround at the busy station. In the coach, emergency workers steppedamong bloody newspapers and mangled seats as they covered upcorpses.

“The train was approaching when I heard the explosion in thefront coach,” said Mari Vicpaglan, a ticket clerk at the railwaystation. “It was so loud. I tried to help them. I felt dizzybecause of the number of people pleading for help.”

Explosions Across City

Elsewhere, a bomb exploded in a bus inside the main bus terminalin Quezon city, in the greater Manila area. At least one persondied, 15 were hurt and the terminal was severely damaged.

A third blast came near a large aviation fuel depot at Manila’sNinoy Aquino International Airport. At least six people were hurt,said an airport official, but the fuel depot did not explode.

The fourth bomb exploded on a bench in a park near the U.S.Embassy, wounding at least nine, blasting a two-foot crater in theground and damaging buildings some 650 feet from the embassy. Thebomb apparently was not directed at the embassy itself.

Later in the day, police found a fifth bomb at a gas stationnear the posh Dusit hotel. They tried to defuse it, but it explodedas they worked, killing one bomb expert immediately. Another diedin hospital later.

It was not immediately clear which bombs killed the 13th and14th victims reported by emergency services.

Residents Fear More Attacks

The attacks left many Manila residents jittery and policeswamped with reports of suspicious packages. Several commercialcenters were evacuated after false alarms.

Witnesses said a suspicious package on a counter in a shoppingmall sparked a stampede as people fled the building. Police bombexperts found mangoes in the package.

The areas hit by the explosions were cordoned off, holding backmasses of onlookers, and television stations urged people to stayaway from the blast scenes. In a brief television address hoursafter the bombings, the embattled president — on trial by theSenate after being impeached on corruption charges — tried to calmnerves.

“I assure you we will use all the forces of our law enforcersto halt this violence,” Estrada said. “I have directed the chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines to mobilize itsintelligence agencies.”

Who to Blame

The attacks further darkened a political atmosphere that wasalready tense as Estrada’s future teeters on the outcome of histrial, which resumes Tuesday. He is accused of massive corruption.Estrada’s press undersecretary, Mike Toledo, denied claims byopposition politicians Saturday that Estrada would declare a stateof emergency or martial law.

Defense Secretary Orlando Mercado said police arrested one manwho was carrying wires and acting suspiciously around one of thebomb sites. They have not revealed his identity.

Police suggested that the Abu Sayyaf, the smaller of twoseparatist Muslim groups in the southern Philippines, were toblame. The blasts came a day after Manila-area police were put onalert for holiday bombing attacks by the rebel group.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Maceda pointed his finger atcommunist rebels who have been fighting the government for morethan 30 years. He said intelligence reports show the communist NewPeople’s Army were planning numerous weekend attacks on rural power lines and stations.

The New People’s Army is the major left wing guerrilla group inthe Philippines. It has had only informal communication with theMuslim groups.

Muslim Separatists Say They Didn’t Do It

The Philippines has long grappled with a multitude of religiousand political conflicts as well as rising crime. In the south, twoMuslim separatist guerrilla groups have been fighting for aseparate Islamic nation.

The larger group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, has beenblamed for bombings in Manila in the past. But Eid Kabalu, a MILFspokesman, denied it carried out the bombings. He told DZRN radioin Manila that his group didn’t have the physical capacity toattack on the scale seen today.

The Abu Sayyaf is the more radical of the two groups. OnThursday, police arrested Abu Sayyaf spokesman Hector Janjalani inManila. They said he had several grenades and sketches of potentialtargets in the city.

The government has been fighting the Abu Sayyaf rebels for 10years, but the battle intensified this summer when the guerrillascaptured scores of Western hostages in a southern area theycontrol.

The rebels reportedly used the large ransom payments to rearmthemselves. The military then launched a fierce assault on therebels, who are still holding an American and a Filipino hostage.