MANILA, Philippines (AP) – A Philippine court has convicted an Indonesian militant and two Filipino extremists for their role in a 2002 mall bombing that killed at least 12 people and signalled the start of the alliance of two of Southeast Asia’s most violent terrorist groups.
Judge Leili Cruz-Suarez said in her ruling on Thursday that Jul Kifli from Indonesia and Abu Sayyaf militants Ahmad Jekeron and Yacob Basug were “guilty beyond reasonable doubt” of staging the April 21, 2002, bombing that also wounded dozens of people at the Fitmart shopping mall in the southern port city of General Santos.
State prosecutor Aristotle Reyes, who initially handled the case, said the convictions would serve as a deterrent to terrorism and complement military actions to defeat the resilient militants.
A former Abu Sayyaf militant and key witness, Abu Hamdie, said the bombing was the first joint attack by the Abu Sayyaf and the Indonesia-based terror network Jemaah Islamiyah. He said the Abu Sayyaf was looking for a diversion to fend off a military offensive at the time, and Jemaah Islamiyah “wanted to show off their bomb-making prowess.”
With the help of Filipino militants, including notorious bombing suspect Basit Usman, Jul Kifli manufactured the powerful bomb and placed it near the entrance of the mall. The bomb was remotely detonated with a cellphone call made by Jekeron, Hamdie said.
“He uttered a short prayer then dialled the cellphone number given by Jul Kifli,” he said.
Usman, who is also wanted by the US government for several deadly bombings, remains at large. Indonesian Ibrahim Ali and Abu Sayyaf militants Arman Ameruddin and Ikram Ameruddin were acquitted in the trial.
The Abu Sayyaf was founded in 1991 in the south, homeland of minority Muslims in the largely Roman Catholic country and scene of rebellions for a separate Muslim homeland.