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Former Muslim rebel may have been target in Philippines bombing

Congressman Wahab Akbar backed operations against Al Qaeda linked Abu Sayyaf guerrillas.

By / November 14, 2007

A bomb explosion at the Philippines House of Representatives in Manila Tuesday evening killed four people, including the suspected target, Congressman Wahab Akbar, a former Muslim rebel who backed operations against an alleged terrorist group. This is the first time the Philippines Congress has been hit, though there is speculation that an individual, not the location, was the target.

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Initial reports said the blast occurred at the south wing entrance of Parliament, just as lawmakers were leaving the building, reports The Philippines Star. A suspected car bomb exploded outside the entrance lobby of the Batasan complex in Quezon City last night, killing Basilan Rep. Wahab Akbar and a driver and wounding at least 12 others.

… The other fatality was identified as Marcial Rualdo, driver of Gabriela party-list Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan. The two injured congressmen were Ilagan and Negros Oriental Rep. Henry Teves. Teves' niece Ma-an Bustalino was also reportedly injured and is in critical condition.
Metro Manila and Regions 3 and 4 have been placed under red alert.

The remotely detonated bomb collapsed the ceiling at the building's entrance and damaged cars, reports the Associated Press. The AP quoted Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno, who said the target appeared to be Representative Akbar, a former rebel who as governor of southern Basilan province supported military operations against Al Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf guerrillas.

Akbar was Basilan governor when U.S. troops arrived on the island in 1992 to train Filipino soldiers battling Abu Sayyaf. Over the years, the island was gradually transformed from a militant hotbed into a showcase of counterterrorism success and humanitarian development.
The key Abu Sayyaf leaders were killed last year in a clash with Philippine marines on neighboring Jolo island. But some of the group's fighters regrouped and returned to Basilan, where they have joined with other guerrillas to stage sporadic attacks.

Mr. Puno sought to play down the possible involvement of Muslim extremists, however, the AP said, noting that Akbar also had many political foes, including those who ran against one of his wives, who succeeded him as Basilan governor. "Political rivalries in the southern Philippines are often accompanied by bloodshed, and assassinations of politicians are common."

In a related development, National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales revealed that authorities received an intelligence report three weeks ago about threats on Akbar's life, according to the online news portal of Philippine TV station ABS-CBN News. "He, however, said that officials did not expect that the attack would be carried out in Metro Manila."

President Arroyo on Wednesday offered a P5 million [a little over $100,000] reward for anyone who can help prevent a repeat of the attack.
… Earlier, the President formed a task force against political violence to mobilize government agencies, political groups and sectoral organizations to prevent political violence in the country. Its task includes investigation and prosecution of those who would be found to have involvement in incidents of political violence.
Small-scale bombings in Mindanao, where there are long-running communist and Muslim insurgencies, and political murders are common in the Philippines, but central government offices have not been targeted before.
Last month, 11 people were killed and about 120 injured in an explosion at the Glorietta mall in Makati City. Police have said a build up of gases was the likely cause but a final report has yet to be released and the owners of the center, Ayala Land Inc., have disputed the police's preliminary findings.