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We go there pretty regularly. Anyone see OEF-P becoming a deployment?

P.S. There are some great acronyms in this article. Enjoy.

US assisting probe of Zamboanga blast

By Julie Alipala, Allan Nawal, Aquiles Zonio

Mindanao Bureau

First Posted 18:09:00 05/30/2008

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – (UPDATE) United States Ambassador Kristie Kenney Friday said her government is helping local authorities investigate of Thursday's explosion here, which killed two people and wounded more than 20 others.

Police have tagged Moro rebels as responsible but the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) cautioned the police and military to conduct a thorough probe before pinning the blame on anyone.

"Certainly, [the US is extending help]. For us, we share any information [we gather] and our experts could help look at the crime scene," Kenney said.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer (parent company of INQUIRER.net) on Friday saw some US soldiers frequenting the building of the Air Materiel Wing Savings and Loan Association (AMWSLAI) in Barangay (village) Sta. Maria here, where an improvised explosive device ripped through the office of the US-funded Alliance for Mindanao Off-Grid Renewable Energy (AMORE) and that of Representative Ma. Isabel Climaco.

The building is across the Edwin Andrews Air Base, where most of the victims were waiting to hitch a ride aboard a military C-130 transport plane for Manila.

Asked whether the target was the AMORE office, Kenney said she could not issue statements yet.

"I don't know, it's impossible to speculate, it's [the bombing] inconceivable, I don't know the motive or any more about the details," she said.

Kenney said the US government is hopeful Philippine authorities would be able to identify the culprits and bring them to justice.

"I am hopeful again that very quickly the long arm of the authorities will find those responsible so that we will be able to get on with our work," she said.

Chief Superintendent Jaime Caringal, Western Mindanao police director, said the help of US forces has sped up their post-blast investigation.

"That's why we were able to gather many data from the blast site," Caringal said.

Caringal also said they suspect the target of the attack was the AMORE office or "personnel in uniform waiting for a free lift on the C-130 aircraft."

"AMORE is a US government project and they are helping in developing some areas, particularly conflict-affected areas, and we know that some groups are rejecting the presence and projects of AMORE for reasons that these are encroaching on their places," Caringal said.

But he admitted the fact that the bomb was placed among the baggage of the waiting plane passengers could also suggest it was aimed at soldiers milling around the base.

He said it might even be possible the bomb was meant for the C-130 itself.

"One clear statement here is that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Special Operations Group that merged with the Abu Sayyaf group in Basilan was making a strong, powerful and loud statement," Caringal said.

He identified those allegedly behind the explosion as MILF leader Malista Malangka and Abu Sayyaf leader Puruji Indama.

He did not say how the police came up with the conclusion but added that the bomb was made of TNT.

"It was the same type of explosive used in previous bombings here including the simultaneous attack at the Mega Cathedral and the office of the Department of Foreign Affairs," in April he said.

Caringal also said they were still investigating the man arrested shortly after the blast although he did not release the suspect's identity.

Khaled Musa, MILF deputy information chief, denounced Caringal for linking them to the explosion.

"This is a serious allegation against the MILF. This is an irresponsible statement. The MILF is a partner of the government in the search for genuine peace in Mindanao," Musa said.

Eid Kabalu, MILF civil military affairs chief, called on the military and the police to conduct a deeper probe of Thursday's bomb explosion "instead of issuing baseless allegations."

Kabalu also branded Caringal's statement as the "height of irresponsibility."

"What he could have done is to wait for the result of the investigation," he said.

Kabalu said the police and the military have barely started their investigation but they already have a fixed suspect.

"How come they determined that so soon?" he said.

Kabalu said the latest incident could be part of the plot of a third-party, which do not want the peace process to resume.

"We have been warning the government about this," he said.

The peace talks between the government and the MILF hit a snag over the issue of territory in December.

The government has been insisting that the future of the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) will be determined by a plebiscite to be held for the purpose.

The MILF has resented that position and decided to pull out of the negotiating table.

Lately, Kuala Lumpur pulled out of the International Monitoring Team (IMT) because of dismay over the progress of the talks.

In General Santos City, a military official said the al-Khobar extortion gang, an alleged ally of the Jemaah Islamiyah, remains a potent and immediate threat to the peace and security of the city and other parts of Central Mindanao.

Colonel Benito De Leon, commander of the Joint Task Force-Gensan, said that from being a kidnap-for-ransom gang al-Khobar has metamorphosed into a dreaded extortion group.

"However, we consider it not as a problem but as a bigger challenge. Neutralizing and preventing this group from entering the city is one among our priorities," De Leon said.

The al-Khobar gang was being blamed for the series of bomb attacks against bus companies and commercial establishments in the region, which is made up of the provinces of South Cotabato, Sarangani, North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat; and the cities of General Santos, Koronadal, Tacurong, Kidapawan and Cotabato City.

Among the deadliest attack the group allegedly carried out was the June 2007 bus bombing in Bansalan, Davao del Sur, where about a dozen people were killed while scores of others wounded.

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