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8 killed, 12 hurt in bus bombing
« on: June 16, 2007, 05:40:37 AM »
MANILA, Philippines -- Bombs went off on two buses in the southern Philippines Friday, killing at least eight passengers and injuring 12 others, police said.

At around 6 p.m., an explosion ripped through a Davao City-bound bus owned by the Weena Bus Company, said Senior Superintendent Anselmo Pinili, Davao del Sur police provincial director.

The packed passenger vehicle was about to leave its terminal in Bansalan town, in Davao del Sur when it was hit by the explosion, Regional police director Chief Superintendent Andres Caro II said.

Caro said at least eight people were killed, including the conductor and driver of the ill-fated bus. Authorities warned the death toll could still rise as at least 12 others were seriously injured.

“No group has claimed responsibility for the attack,” Chief Inspector Sherwin Butil, the town’s police chief, said. "We're still investigating whether Muslim militants or criminal groups engaged in extortion were behind the bombing.”

Bomb disposal experts were immediately dispatched to the area to conduct an investigation.

Police still had a cordon around the area in case there were other explosives around, Butil said.

About 20 minutes earlier in Cotabato City, another bomb exploded aboard a parked bus from the same company.

Eddie Soledad, manager of the Weena Express terminal in Cotabato City, said nobody was injured because the passengers and the bus' crew had already disembarked when the 5:40 explosion occurred.

He said based on police investigation, the bomb was an improvised explosive device. "The bus was in shatters," he said.

In the Bansalan blast, authorities at the scene identified six of the eight dead passengers as Pepe Villotes, Wilson Menil, Ricardo Tolibas, Corporal Dariel Potestas, bus conductor Arpie Antelino, and driver Romeo Lu.

Wounded were Joy Teves, Rey Mendez , Jean Lu, Lorelyn Aben, Merlyn Sanchez, Erwin Sisneros, Rodrigo Tirando, Vivencio Laganse, Joseph Ryan Granada, Mary Ann Contenidas, Lucia Lofranco and Diane Lofranco.

Witnesses said the bus was carrying many passengers at the time of the explosion.

Curious townspeople milled around the area, looking at the blast site where at least one bloodied body could still be seen, lying on the ground, near the shattered remains of the bus.

Glass and pieces of twisted metal littered the area along with discarded bags and bits of clothing.

Most of the dead and injured were in the front of the bus according to company employee Danilo Barimbao.

A passenger of the ill-fated bus told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that two men boarded the bus in Kidapawan City in North Cotabato. One of the men sat behind the driver, while the other one, who was carrying a black backpack, sat near the second door at the bus' middle part, she added.

She said she also noticed that the two were suspiciously "talking via signal."

"They were nodding at each other. When the bus was about to leave, the one sitting at the second door disembarked," the woman said, adding she did not notice the other man.

Another passenger, who was seated beside the suspect, reminded him of his backpack "but he said he was just going to urinate," she said.

The man was allegedly holding a device, similar to a remote. "It was too small for a cellphone," she said.

When other passengers noticed that the man was in a hurry, they immediately suspected that the backpack contained a bomb.

The conductor picked it up and placed it near the driver.

Another passenger, she said, opened the bag and saw that it contained sand and a ketchup container.

"Then the passengers panicked forcing the conductor to bring it down. In less than 10 seconds, it exploded," she said.

The latest explosion occurred as Washington warned of terror attacks in Central Mindanao.

A week ago, five people were hurt when a bomb exploded aboard a Weena Express in the southern town of Matalam and on May 18 a bomb exploded aboard another company bus at a terminal in Cotabato, leaving three dead -- including a five-year-old boy -- and wounding 30 others.

But police have previously said that extortion rather than terrorism is the likely motive of the bombings.

Just before Friday's twin blasts, a letter from someone calling himself "Commander Barumbado" was sent to the company demanding P2 million ($4,300) in protection money, prompting the bus firm to reduce the number of its buses plying the Cotabato-Davao route from 30 to 10.

But US bomb experts, who helped investigate the earlier Matalam bomb attack, ruled out the involvement of the Jemaah Islamiyah in the incident, saying it was the work of amateurs. (With reports from Eldie Aguirre, Edwin Fernandez and Joselle Badilla, Inquirer Mindanao, and Alcuin Papa in Manila; Agence France-Presse)

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