Al Qaeda Link To Philippine Bombing Probed

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau ( - Police in the Philippines believe a deadly bomb blast at a port in the south of the country last week was carried out by Indonesians who are possibly members of a terrorist network linked to al Qaeda.

Police say they are hunting five Indonesians who may have cooperated with Filipino militants in the attack.

Sixteen people were killed and scores were injured in the blast at a busy wharf in the country's third-largest city, Davao.

The Indonesians are suspected to be members of Jemaah Islamiah, the group also blamed for last October's bombing in Bali, which killed almost 200 people, most of them foreign tourists.

Terrorism experts believe Jemaah Islamiah operates as the Southeast Asian wing of al-Qaeda.

The information on the Indonesians emerged soon after the arrest Sunday of an alleged key player in the bomb plot, a man said to be a member of the largest Muslim separatist in the Philippines, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The government in Manila recently revived stalled peace talks with the MILF.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has issued a statement urging the group's leadership to prove they had nothing to do with the attack.

"We will not allow the government to be caught in a squeeze play between terrorism and the peace process," she said. "Terrorists cannot hide behind pretensions to peace, we will expose them and throw the full weight of the law against them."

Last week's bombing came a month after another bombing in Davao, at the city's international airport. An American missionary was among the 23 people killed in that blast.

Before the two attacks a month apart, Davao was regarded as a haven of relative stability in the otherwise violence-prone Mindanao region.

Experts at the Texas-based independent intelligence analysis group, Stratfor, suggested Davao may have been chosen because -- like Bali in Indonesia -- it had been largely immune to terrorist activity elsewhere in the country.

It said the bombings may presage a broader regional campaign, and that terrorists may target areas, like Bali and Davao, that "have a higher economic value to their respective countries."

Attacks against "economically and psychologically important targets ... could serve to further destabilize national governments," Stratfor warned.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow