'Third force' linked to Davao blast

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 March, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 March, 2003, 12:00am

Philippine authorities are investigating the alleged collusion of Iraqis and Indonesians with the Abu Sayyaf in the Davao airport blast that killed 21 people.

Foreign Secretary Blas Ople yesterday advised the newly arrived Iraqi ambassador-designate Ghazi Faisal Hussein 'to warn the members of his staff and members of the Iraqi community in Manila against being involved in activities exceeding the scope of their diplomatic rights and obligations'.

Mr Ople said the United States had 'expressed some anxiety about the Iraqi residents in the Philippines. And they're concerned that some of these Iraqis will try to harm US government interests in the country'.

He said Dr Hussein promised that the Iraqi embassy 'will definitely not be involved in activities with illegal groups and certainly not with terrorist groups'.

Norberto Gonzales, presidential adviser on the peace process, said President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had ordered that the probe on the Davao explosion be widened to consider other groups.

Authorities are only now beginning to piece together information tending to show a link-up among Iraqis, Filipinos and Indonesians.

Police are now looking for four Indonesians, believed to have links with the Abu Sayyaf. They reportedly were seen in Davao days before the bombings, a police source said.

They are believed to have links with Oskar Makawata, an Indonesian national suspected to be a ranking Jemaah Islamiah member, now in police custody.

Other leads came from Abu Sayyaf member Noor Mohammad Umug, alias Abu Muslim Alghazie, who has turned state witness.

He disclosed the names of Indonesian nationals linked to the Abu Sayyaf, the source added.

Police are also hunting for Abu Sayyaf member Abdulbasit Usman, an expert bomber who escaped from police in the south last September.

Mr Gonzales, the government's peace negotiator with the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), said he tended to believe 'a third force' was involved. He noted that even before the Davao blast of March 4, 'we already had a very strong and quiet investigation going on the Abu Sayyaf, Indonesian, Iraqi combination'.

'We cannot view this blast as simply a retaliation (by MILF) because this [other] group really had a plan laid out even before the military attacked Buliok [rebel base],' he said. 'That was why we had that Iraqi diplomat axed, although of course the plan did not specify Davao as a target of bombings.'

Manila expelled Iraqi embassy second-secretary Husham Hussein last month after intelligence officials said he was conniving with Abu Sayyaf elements in bombing operations. His cellphone number was recorded in a cellphone belonging to an arrested Abu Sayyaf member.

The National Bureau of Investigation said the bomb that killed 21 at Davao airport was similar to those that exploded in Manila on December 30 two years ago. A previous blast was found to have been jointly carried out by elements from the Abu Sayyaf, the regional militant network Jemaah Islamiah and the MILF.

President Arroyo yesterday met top military and police officials as fighting broke out anew between the separatists and government forces in the southern Philippines.

The military disclosed yesterday the rebels had been preparing for war.

Armed forces spokesman Essel Soriano said the rebels bought US$2.1 million (HK$16 million) worth of arms, communication equipment and cellular phones from a Korean supplier on September 25, 1999. They even contemplated buying a submarine.

The MILF leadership and dozens of their members are so far the principal suspects for the Davao bombing. The Davao City police filed murder charges against them on March 7.