Shi'ite imam likely target of deadly Manila blasts

Police officers standing guard outside a mosque in Quiapo, Manila, on Saturday, after two explosions rocked the office of Shi'ite cleric Nasser Abinal in the same area.
Police officers standing guard outside a mosque in Quiapo, Manila, on Saturday, after two explosions rocked the office of Shi'ite cleric Nasser Abinal in the same area.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Philippine police dismiss claims that ISIS had a hand in incident, in which two were killed and six injured

MANILA • Philippine police believe a Shi'ite Muslim cleric was the likely target of explosions that killed two people in Manila, an official said yesterday, rejecting claims of involvement by terrorist group ISIS.

Six others were injured when two explosions rocked the office of imam Nasser Abinal in the capital's busy Quiapo district on Saturday.

Mr Oscar Albayalde, head of police forces in the capital, said the bomb was apparently intended for Mr Abinal, who is also the government tax officer for the Manila region. He was not in the office at the time.

"He admitted there were threats to his life in the past" while being questioned by police.

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The bomb was carried in a package by a hired deliveryman who handed it over to an aide of Mr Abinal just before it went off, killing them both.

This has nothing to do with terrorism. There is no indication that this was done by a terror group, local or foreign.

MR OSCAR ALBAYALDE, head of police forces in Manila. He noted that the bomb was apparently intended for imam Nasser Abinal, who is also the government tax officer for the Manila region.

As police were searching the blast site late on Saturday, another explosion rocked the area, possibly from a second bomb planted earlier, said Mr Albayalde.

"This has nothing to do with terrorism. There is no indication that this was done by a terror group, local or foreign," he said.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group has claimed it staged the explosion.

"Five Shi'ites were killed and six others wounded in a bomb blast by ISIS fighters in the centre of Manila," said a statement from Amaq, ISIS' propaganda arm.

Mr Albayalde said this was just the ISIS custom of taking credit for any such incidents. The group has carried out attacks in other countries on Shi'ite sites and events.

However, Mr Albayalde said the attack seemed to be targeting Mr Abinal, adding that it may be for personal reasons, his work or his religion.

Tension remained high after the blasts, with police cordoning off the area again yesterday after a suspicious bag was spotted. A bomb disposal robot later established it was a false alarm.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesman, Mr Ernesto Abella, urged the public to stay alert but avoid spreading "unverified" news that may cause panic.

The Philippines is a mainly Catholic country but has a significant Muslim minority, some of whom live in the Quiapo district.

Just over a week ago, another explosion injured 14 people in Quiapo as South-east Asian leaders were meeting for a summit a few kilometres away. ISIS claimed responsibility for the April 28 explosion, but police insisted it was not a terrorist attack and not related to the gathering of political leaders.

Local Muslim militants who have pledged allegiance to ISIS are based in the southern Philippines, hundreds of kilometres from Manila.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 08, 2017, with the headline 'Shi'ite imam likely target of deadly Manila blasts'. Print Edition | Subscribe