MARIVELES (Philippines): The Muslim extremist group Abu Sayyaf claimed responsibility yesterday for an explosion on a ferry that sparked a fire and left 180 passengers missing, according to a radio report.
The Radio Mindanao Network, which has often been called by the Abu Sayyaf in the past, said group spokesman Abu Sulaiman claimed a bomb was planted in revenge for alleged incidents of violence in the southern Mindandao area and the rape of some Muslim women by Philippine troops.
The Friday fire on the Superferry 14 occurred the same day that two alleged Abu Sayyaf members were convicted of kidnapping an American in 2000 and another was arraigned in a separate mass abduction.
The military downplayed the Abu Sayyaf claim, saying it may have been a bluff by the guerillas to project strength amid battle setbacks that have considerably weakened the group.
“They just want to ride and hitch on the media mileage on this Superferry fire,'' said military spokesman Lt Col Daniel Lucero.
Officials have not speculated on the cause of the fire, but said they could not rule out terrorism even though police sniffer dogs checked the ferry before it left Manila. Witnesses said the blaze was triggered by an explosion at 12.50am on Friday, two hours into the ferry's regular trip.
RMN programme director Benji Alejandro said Sulaiman called him using a satellite phone that the rebels had used in the past and claimed responsibility for the ferry blast. He reminded Alejandro that the Abu Sayyaf had warned as early as October that they would target inter-island vessels belonging to WG&A, which owned the Superferry 14.
Alejandro acknowledged he received that rebel warning, asking Muslims not to ride WG&A vessels, and notified a WG&A official.
“This is a revenge,'' Alejandro quoted Sulaiman as saying.
Asked why the guerillas targeted a ship full of civilians, Sulaiman cited several alleged incidents of Filipino Muslims being hurt during military assaults, Alejandro said.
“Just like in our land, civilians were also victimised during military operations. Muslim women in some areas were raped by some air force troops,'' Sulaiman said.
Sulaiman later made another call to RMN, saying a bomb had been placed in a “blue cabin, bedding 51,'' Alejandro said. The rebel who placed the bomb then abandoned the ship and returned to the group, he added. – AP
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