|Life terms for MILF Rizal Day bombers
By Sandy Araneta
A Manila court sentenced three terrorists to life terms yesterday for the simultaneous bombing attacks that killed 22 people and wounded scores of commuters in Metro Manila on Rizal Day, Dec. 30, 2000.
In a 72-page decision, Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 29 Judge Cielito Menaro Grulla declared Mukhlis Hadji Umpara Yunos (also known as Hadji Onos, Moklis, Muklis and Mocles), Zainal Paks (alias Paks and Mamasao Gaon Naga), and Mohamad Amir (alias Amir, Abdul Fatak Paute) guilty of multiple murder, multiple frustrated murder, and multiple attempted murder.
Yunos is a confessed member of the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front and reportedly carried out the attacks together with his cohorts in retaliation for the loss of MILF camps in Mindanao in 2000.
He reportedly received training in explosives from the Southeast Asian regional terror group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).
The three were sentenced to life imprisonment, or a maximum of 40 years in prison without the possibility of parole. The three were also ordered to pay P100,000 in total damages.
Five other suspects charged with the same offense are still at large.
The court rejected the alibi of the three accused who claimed they were in Mindanao when the bombings occurred.
The court instead allowed the testimony of witness Cusain Ramos who said they were in Metro Manila on a bombing mission.
Ramos had turned state witness and testified against his colleagues, revealing plans “to conduct bombings in Metro Manila as retaliation for what the government did to the MILF camps in Mindanao.”
Another witness, Anna Marie Velasquez, who was among the wounded in the bombing, said she saw Yunos carrying a bag inside the commuter train and then leaving without it moments before the explosion.
Eleven people were killed in the blast that rocked the Light Railway Transit (LRT) station in Blumentritt, Manila on Dec. 30, 2000.
Four other explosions also occurred on that day, leaving a total of 22 people killed and about 100 others wounded.
Prosecutors described Yunos as an explosives expert and confessed member of the MILF.
The government has accused Yunos of carrying out the Rizal Day bombings on behalf of JI.
The plan was to bomb selected targets in Metro Manila, including the LRT and a passenger bus.
Yunos pleaded guilty to the charges in 2004 but later changed his plea.
Security officials said Yunos worked closely with Indonesian JI member Fathur Roman Al-Ghozi, a demolitions expert who escaped from detention at the Philippine National Police (PNP) headquarters in July 2003. He was killed in what police described as a shootout three months later in Midsayap, North Cotabato.
Prosecutors said Al-Ghozi and Yunos had confessed to buying about 70 kilograms of explosives used to bomb the targets.
Yunos prepared the bombs’ wiring while Al-Ghozi had admitted to preparing the switch on the alarm-clock triggers and packing the explosives, the prosecutors said.
Triumph of justice
Malacañang hailed the conviction of the three Rizal Day bombers as the “fruit of effective and coordinated efforts of law enforcement, prosecution and the courts.”
Deputy presidential spokesperson Lorelei Fajardo said the conviction “served to reinforce the people’s faith in the justice system.”
“Our government will make sure that justice is served, that hateful ideology never triumphs, that peace-loving citizens are kept safe and that democracy continues to prosper,” Fajardo said.
Light Railway Transit Authority (LRTA) administrator Melquiades Robles said the verdict serves as a “reminder that there are no winners in violent acts, only losers.”
Robles said the LRTA is working full time to improve security to prevent a repeat of the bombing attack.
Sen. Manny Villar also hailed the verdict as a significant victory in the war against terrorism.
“The court ruling represents a clear triumph of justice in the government’s determined campaign to rid the country of the scourge of terrorism,” Villar said.
For his part, PNP chief Director General Jesus Verzosa considered the conviction as a “personal victory.”
Verzosa was the chief of the PNP Intelligence Group (IG) that arrested Yunos at the Cagayan de Oro airport last May 25, 2003.
Yunos had covered his body with a plaster cast and disguised himself as a victim of a vehicular accident in an apparent attempt to avoid being identified.
“Personally, this is a victory for me because I have worked hard for this operation. When I took over the helm of the Intelligence Group, I really wanted to arrest Yunos considering the gravity of the offense,” he said.
Verzosa said Yunos was on his way back to Manila for another bombing attack when he was arrested at the airport.
“This (conviction) is a positive note for our justice system. We have convicted known terrorists who have wreaked havoc in Metro Manila,” he said.
Following the verdict, Verzosa said they are expecting retaliatory attacks.
“We had initiated security coverage at the court itself and also for those involved in the prosecution of the case. We have also alerted some units for possible things that might happen,” Verzosa said.
Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim also appealed to the public to maintain vigilance against possible retaliatory attacks following the conviction.
‘In tears but smiling’
Security was tight, with about 100 police officers guarding the courtroom and escorting the three convicts as they were taken back to jail.
“We think it’s wrong,” Felix Marinas, the lawyer for the three convicts, told reporters after the trial.
Marinas said he would appeal the conviction before the Supreme Court.
“We think that eventually, it’s going to be reversed,” he said.
On the other hand, Amir’s wife, who refused to give her name, accused the government of bias and said the verdict would be appealed.
Yunos, for his part, shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) as guards led him out of the courtroom in handcuffs.
State Prosecutor Peter Ong said Yunos was “in tears but smiling” after the verdict was read. In a warning to other terrorists, Ong said, “We will move mountains to get all of you.”
Ong said there was tension inside the courtroom while the verdict was being read for three hours.
He told reporters that he felt relieved after more than six years of trial. “I feel very happy,” he remarked. –With Cecille Suerte Felipe, Paolo Romero, Christina Mendez, Rainier Allan Ronda, AP at http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?ArticleId=434223&publicationSubCategoryId=63
Court finds Rizal Day bombers guilty athttp://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/nation/view/20090124-185257/Court-finds-Rizal-Day-bombers-guilty
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