Catholic Shrine Targeted In Latest Philippine Terror Attack

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau ( - In the latest of a series of terrorist blasts, a soldier was killed and 16 people - including an infant - were injured when a bomb exploded at a Roman Catholic shrine in the southern Philippines Sunday.

The blast occurred on Sunday evening at a shrine in Zamboanga, a predominantly Christian city of 700,000 in a region which is home to the country's Muslim minority and to several Islamic separatist organizations, including the infamous Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).

Zamboanga police said the bomb had apparently been hidden in a "pedicab" (cycle taxi) left near the Our Lady of Del Pilar shrine, where hundreds of Catholics light votive candles and pray at an icon of the Virgin Mary every Sunday.

Security at the shrine had earlier been increased, and the Marine corporal who was killed was on guard duty at the time.

Last Thursday seven people died and around 160 were hurt when two bombs exploded in a shopping center in the same city, and in Manila the following day, a bus bombing cost two lives.

The bombing spree began on Oct. 2, when a U.S. soldier was killed at an eatery across the road from a military base near Zamboanga. A total of 23 people have died in five attacks since then.

Security has been stepped up in the capital and other cities, with police sent to carry out random checks at airports, ports and other transport hubs, and marshals deployed to provide security on public buses.

Officials said four alleged ASG members were being hunted in connection with Thursday's attack in Zamboanga.

The ASG, a gang notorious for abductions and the decapitation of captives, was the target of a six-month U.S.-Philippine military exercise in the southern Philippines earlier this year.

A senior member of the group, accused of involvement in bombings and kidnappings, was captured by police in the capital on Saturday.

The ASG has had close ties with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network since it was established in the early 1990s, according to terrorism researchers and Western security officials.

Meanwhile national security advisor Roilo Golez was quoted by the Philippine Star daily as saying the bomb used in the Manila attack on Friday appeared to have been manufactured from the same type of explosive used in bomb attacks on the capital in late December 2000.

Those bombings, which killed 22 people, were blamed on Jemaah Islamiah (JI), and two Indonesians accused of JI membership were jailed earlier this year for their role.

JI is the regional network - also allegedly affiliated to al Qaeda - which has been named as the likeliest suspect in a Oct. 12 bombing which killed more than 180 people in an Indonesian tourist resort of Bali, most of them Western visitors.

JI is accused of plotting attacks and other activities across the region as part of a campaign to destabilize secular or moderate Muslim governments and create an Islamic super-state.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow