Philippines charges Muslim leader with murder

reuters_icon.gifMANILA, Oct 17 – Philippine police charged the leader of the country’s largest Muslim rebel group with murder on Tuesday for his alleged role in a fatal bombing, straining already precarious government peace talks with his followers.

Ebrahim “al haj” Murad, the chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), was charged in absentia with plotting and ordering last week’s blast, which killed seven people and wounded 30 during a town fiesta in the southern region of Mindanao.

“The complaint was filed before the prosecutor’s office in Kidapawan City late this afternoon,” Superintendent Marcelo Pintac of the criminal investigation office in North Cotabato told reporters.
Pintac said relatives of three men who died in the blast initiated the murder complaint.
Police have blamed the attack on MILF.

At least 20 Muslim rebel leaders were also charged in absentia, including Indonesian militants Dulmatin and Umar Patek, wanted for the 2002 Bali bombings and sheltering with members of Abu Sayyaf, the Philippines’ most violent Muslim rebel group.

The MILF told Reuters the charges against Murad were designed to break a 2003 truce and long-running negotiations to end nearly 40 years of separatist violence in the south of the mainly Catholic country.
“It’s ridiculous,” Mohaqher Iqbal, the rebels’ chief peace negotiator, told Reuters by phone from his hideout in the south.

“That case would have an impact on the peace process. There are groups out there that want to sabotage the talks.”

Negotiations between Manila and the MILF stalled in May over the size and wealth of a proposed homeland for around 3 million Muslims in the south.

More than 120,000 people have been killed in separatist fighting since the late 1960s. But some analysts fear that a number of military commanders as well as local politicians and businesses want to prolong the conflict to maintain their power.

Over the past seven days, there has been an upsurge in violence on Mindanao with five bomb attacks in urban centres.

Police have also raised the alert level in Manila amid fears of Muslim militant attacks in the capital.
In the southern business hub of Zamboanga, security forces on Tuesday seized about 200 kg (440 lb) of ammonium nitrate, a chemical material commonly used in bombs, hidden on a ferry from Jolo island, the base of the Abu Sayyaf.

“We were warned about the dangerous cargo,” Colonel Antonio Supnet, the local army commander, said, adding it was the second time in a month a shipment of ammonium nitrate was smuggled into Zamboanga city.

There are four Muslim militant groups in the Philippines and they tend to attack public targets in southern cities and Manila.

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