ZAMBOANGA CITY (Zamboanga Journal / 28 Mar) The United States deplored Tuesday the bombing in the southern Philippine island of Jolo, where at least 29 people were killed and wounded, in an attack blamed by Filipino authorities to the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group.
“We deplore the targeting and killing of innocent civilians. With the Armed Forces of the Philippines, we are committed to continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of the Sulu region."
"We at JSOTF-P stand side by side with the people of the Philippines in the battle against lawlessness and terrorism in this region,” said Colonel James Linder, commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force in the Philippines.
Secretary Jesus Dureza, the presidential peace adviser, said at least 9 people were killed, three of them still unidentified, and 20 others wounded, many seriously, when a homemade bomb exploded inside a convenience store building in downtown Jolo on Monday.
"Based on the latest reports, at least 9 people were killed, three of them are still unidentified, and 20 people are also wounded, many of them seriously," Dureza said.
The blast coincided with government operation against the Abu Sayyaf militants, whose group is tied to al-Qaeda terrorist network in Jolo, about 950 kms south of Manila. Security officials said the blast through the Sulu Consumer's Cooperative Store around 1.15 p.m. and that most of the victims were Muslims.
The explosion was so powerful that it totally destroyed the facade of the building and debris thrown across the street. The scene reminded locals of the television footages on the aftermath of suicide bombings in Iraq.
Jolo military chief Brig. Gen. Alexander Aleo earlier said the blast had the handiwork of the Abu Sayyaf group, blamed for the series of bombings and kidnappings in the south. "We are still investigating who were behind the blast, but the attack had the trademark of the Abu Sayyaf," Aleo said.
A small group of heavily armed US military advisers stationed in Jolo island were spotted helping Filipino soldiers investigate the bombings. A photograph released by the US Embassy on Tuesday showed an American soldier helping carry a wounded blast victim.
It said no US soldiers were wounded or killed in the blast. "At least 9 people died and more than 20 were injured in the attack. No US personnel were injured. The explosive device was planted on the ground floor of a building along a busy street in downtown Jolo," the embassy statement said.
Just two weeks ago, troops captured an Abu Sayyaf weapons courier Julkaram Hadjail on Jolo and security forces killed several militants in a separate clash on the island.Security forces also recovered early this month a cache of Abu Sayyaf explosives and homemade bombs near a highway in Jolo's Indanan town where troops regularly pass.
The US forces, consistent with the Mutual Defense Treaty and Visiting Forces Agreement, are in Jolo island to advise and assist the Filipino military. They also provide humanitarian and civic assistance in Jolo under the so-called Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) 2006 and Bayanihan, which means "helping hand".