3 dead in bombing at Philippine Congress
By Oliver Teves
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press
A patient is taken from an ambulance after an explosion Tuesday at an entrance to the Philippine House of Representatives. The blast killed a driver and injured at least nine people, officials say.
MANILA, Philippines — A Philippine congressman who had been targeted by Muslim militants was among three people killed Tuesday night when a bomb exploded at an entrance of the Philippine House of Representatives, police said.
Rep. Wahab Akbar, a former member of a Muslim rebel group that signed a peace accord with the government in 1996, died at the hospital, his chief of staff said.
Metropolitan Manila Police Chief Geary Barias said a lawmaker's driver and a congressional staff member also were killed. Seven other people were wounded, including two congresswomen.
Police and soldiers in the capital went on high alert, but Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno sought to play down the possible involvement of Muslim extremists, saying the investigation was pointing away from a terrorist attack and "more of a directed assault on certain individual."
"There were threats on life of Akbar," Puno said. "The indications are that that was the case both in terms of location of the bomb and the manner it was set off."
A number of cars were damaged outside the southern entrance to the building, where the blast hit after 8 p.m. as the House ended its session and lawmakers and their staff were being picked up by their drivers.
Investigators suspect the bomb may have been placed on one of two parked motorcycles then remotely detonated as Akbar approached his car, fatally wounding him and ripping the motorcycles apart, Barias said.
"It looks like Congressman Akbar was the target," Barias said.
Akbar, a former governor of southern Basilan province, had been targeted by the Abu Sayyaf Muslim extremist group in the past for launching offensives against them.
But he also had political opponents, including those that ran against one of his wives who succeeded him as governor of Basilan. Political rivalries in the southern Philippines are often solved with readily available weapons, and assassinations of politicians are common.
"I felt the blast although I was on the other side of the building. The ceiling of the canopy near the south wing entrance came down," Rep. Teodoro Casino told The Associated Press.
National police chief Avelino Razon said a destroyed motorcycle was found and experts were conducting chemical tests to find out if it was used to carry the bomb.
Police cordoned off the massive House complex in suburban Quezon City shortly after the blast.
"If this is terrorist action or work of an anarchist I'm sure it was deliberately done to cow us," House Speaker Jose de Venecia told reporters at the site.
Puno said authorities were treating the blast as "as a violent crime intended on a particular individual rather than any institution."
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said while police investigate and bolster security, "we're making a call against rumors, accusations that create confusion, fear and conflict."
Political tensions are high in the country. Arroyo is facing a third impeachment complaint in as many years.
Last month, an explosion damaged a shopping mall in the financial district, killing 11 people and injuring more than 100. A preliminary police report said it was an accident, although the owners of the mall disputed the finding.
Muslim militants also have bombed targets in the capital in the past.
Akbar was once a member of the Moro National Liberation Front, a Muslim rebel group that dropped its secessionist goal and signed a peace accord with the government in September 1996.
Some security officials have suspected that Akbar knew the leaders of Abu Sayyaf, which has its roots on Basilan island. But they said he later had a falling out with Abu Sayyaf commanders and started fighting them.
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