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Manila court sentences three militants to death

A Philippine court Friday sentenced three Muslim militants, including an Indonesian, to death for the bombing of a bus that killed four people in Manila in February.
/ Source: Reuters

A Philippine court on Friday sentenced three Muslim militants, including an Indonesian, to death for the bombing of a bus that killed four people in Manila in February.

The bombing on Valentine’s Day in the capital’s financial district was part of coordinated attacks that also hit two cities on the troubled southern island of Mindanao, killing a dozen people and wounding about 100.

One of those convicted was Rohmat, alias Zaki, an Indonesian suspected of belonging to the regional Jemaah Islamiah (JI) network, which is blamed for bombings on the Indonesian resort island of Bali and other deadly attacks in the region.

The two others -- Gamal Baharan, alias Tapay, and Angelo Trinidad, alias Abu Khalil -- were suspected members of Abu Sayyaf, the smallest of four homegrown Muslim rebel groups.

Trinidad had converted to Islam from Roman Catholicism, the main religion in the Philippines.

Abu Sayyaf, on a U.S. blacklist for suspected links to al-Qaida, is also blamed for the country’s worst terror attack --the sinking of a ferry near Manila in February 2004 that killed more than 100 people.

In her verdict, Judge Marissa Guillen said the three men were given a fair trial, with the two Filipinos making “free and voluntary pleas of guilt” and the Indonesian being allowed to use a lawyer of his choice.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s spokesman, Ignacio Bunye, called the court decision “another victory in our relentless fight against terrorism”.

The military said Rohmat, arrested at an army checkpoint this year, was a senior trainer and one of JI’s top links to Abu Sayyaf in Mindanao, helping instruct recruits to make bombs.

He has been linked to six bombings in Mindanao since 2002.

Wailing in court
Death sentences in the Philippines, which are automatically reviewed by the Supreme Court, are carried out by lethal injection but there have been no executions since 2000.

The three accused stood silently in handcuffs as a court official read the judge’s decision.

The courtroom, guarded by soldiers and police, was packed with journalists and relatives of the accused, who burst into wails when the death sentence was announced.

“It’s up to Allah now,” said the mother of one of the two Filipinos, weeping and declining to give her name. “It was a harsh decision.”

The court found Rohmat and the two Filipinos guilty based on evidence and testimony given by victims and witnesses of the bomb attack on the bus in Manila.

It also relied on testimony by a militant known as Boy Negro, the source of the bomb, who turned state witness.

Two Abu Sayyaf leaders, Khaddafy Janjalani and Abu Solaiman, were among the accused but were not sentenced because they remain at large.