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Friday, October 19, 2007

Makati City Bombing - Philippines

(10th UPDATE) Eight killed, 129 hurt in Makati mall blast

Eight people were killed while at least 129 others were injured after an explosion ripped through an upscale mall in Makati City Friday afternoon.

"As of 8:00 this evening, we have accounted for eight casualties and 129 injured. They are scattered I think in three hospitals in Makati," National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) Director General Geary Barias said in an interview with ANC’s Crossroads.

Officials also reported that ten persons were reported missing. Fire and rescue authorities were still searching for bodies they suspect may be trapped under the debris thrown by the powerful blast.

A report said among those injured were two South Koreans and a Chinese citizen.

Reuters reported that police sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said traces of C4 plastic explosives were found at the location. The bomb appeared to have been left near a cellphone repair shop at the bottom of an escalator, they said.

Philippine National Police chief Avelino Razon earlier debunked reports that the blast that hit Glorietta 2 ground level at 1:30 p.m. was caused by a gas leak.

"This was a bomb. But beyond that we can't say anything else yet because we are still investigating. What I can say is it was not [liquefied petroleum gas] that caused this," Razon told reporters.

He said there was still no conclusive evidence to determine if the blast was caused by a C-4 bomb, a military explosive, or any other improvised explosive device. He added that the police cannot definitely say if the explosion was a terrorist attack.

Barias said that specimens gathered from the crime scene were already forwarded to the crime laboratory for chemical analysis.

"Hopefully tonight or first hour tomorrow (Saturday), we would have results of this analysis that they will undertake. That will be the only time by which we could give you a picture of what explosives, or if it is indeed explosives, that were used in the explosion that happened this afternoon," said Barias.

The United States and Australia both offered technical help in investigating the blast. Members of the US Federal Bureau of investigation were reported to be already at the site observing the police’s investigation.

Barias said police had not received any threats about an attack.

The NCRPO chief said that security guards detailed at the mall have been given proper training.

"[Security guards] here in Glorietta have undergone bomb identification training so that should still be their responsibility in the security of the malls," he said.

He still expressed confidence that their blast investigators are qualified to handle the incident despite several reactions from groups wanting an independent body to also probe the bomb incident.

"I still have faith for our bomb blast investigators who have been trained also abroad. If that’s an observation, that could also be a good observation. But I can assure you na ang mga bomb blast investigators natin have extensive training on this. Their exposure is even as far as Mindanao. Remember may mga explosion na nagaganap sa Mindanao and these are the same team, the same people we have been using for our post blast investigation," he said.

He also assured the public that authorities will conduct a thorough investigation to eventually determine the suspects behind the incident.

"It’s too early to say who is the author of this. First, wala tayong nakalap na (we did not receive) intelligence information before this happened. Even up to this time, nobody claimed this incident kung sino ang may kagagawan (or who was the perpetrator)," he said.

Barias in an earlier interview said bomb debris carpeted a 200 square-meter area in the mall. "The ceilings are damaged and may collapse," Barias said.

The explosion ripped through the roof of the mall and damaged nearby shops. Debris from the blast were scattered on the streets.

A general alert has been issued for the rest of the city and for the international airport, officials said. A meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) was called for later in the day.

Barias placed all police units in Metro Manila on full alert status and ordered district offices to put up more checkpoints in the metropolis. He added that he will order more policemen deployed in nearby malls to maintain peace and order.

"We will send policemen to other malls to restore order especially here in Makati and to prevent any untoward incident," Barias told reporters.

The blast, which occurred during lunch-hour, spread panic in the city of 12 million people, which has in the past been the scene of attacks by Muslim separatist rebels.

Several shoppers said the blast was heard from a nearby baby store in the mall. Liana Navarro, sister of Black and White Movement’s Leah Navarro and who was in the mall with her mother, said several people including children were seen with "obvious injuries."

Another witness, Arel Vertucio, said the explosion was so strong that it was felt up to the third level of the mall. Vertucio said he saw some people lying on the ground.

Eyewitness Icy Marinas was only 15 meters away from the Glorietta explosion when it occurred. She said the blast felt like an "intense earthquake."

She said she saw a pregnant woman crying after the blast while other women started rushing out of the mall with their families. She added that she saw "three bloodied men" near the blast site while the security guards just stood around with no reaction.

Charlie Nepomuceno, an employee at the Glorietta mall, said the powerful explosion appeared to have centered on an escalator.

"It left a deep crater at the foot of the escalator," he said. "It also ripped open the roof of the building. I saw a man thrown on to the roof who had lost a leg."

He said a badly mangled body of a woman was near the escalator.

Manila has largely been spared a spate of bomb attacks by Muslim rebels that have plagued the southern Mindanao region. But it has been hit in the past. A series of bomb blasts in 2000 killed at least 22 people.

President Arroyo ordered the police to "leave no stone unturned" in its investigation on the explosion.

"The President is deeply saddened by this incident and extends her sympathies to the families of the casualties…She has also ordered the PNP to get to the bottom of things and to leave no stone unturned," Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said in a statement.

Bunye said the President also ordered the Department of Social Welfare and Development to extend assistance to the victims.

Arroyo in a statement Friday early evening also issued a stern warning against those who want to take advantage of the Makati mall blast.

"I warned those who seek to destabilize our government not to exploit this incident for their selfish political motives," Mrs. Arroyo said following her emergency meeting with the NSC and other officials in MalacaƱang.

Mrs. Arroyo said that the government is undertaking measures to ensure that the incident would not happen again including ordering the Philippine National Police to go on a high alert and the deployment of additional 2,000 cops in Metro Manila.

"This is a time for all of us to unite. Sana ay maunawaan ng ating mga kababayan ang mga pag-iingat na ating isinasagawa. Maraming salamat po sa inyong lahat (I hope our countrymen understand the measures we are implementing. Thank you)," she said.

After her NSC meeting, Mrs. Arroyo immediately went to visit patients confined at the Makati Medical Center who were among those injured during what authorities called a possible terrorist attack in the upscale mall in Makati City. With reports from Reuters, Agence France-Presse

Source: ABS-CBN News

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