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March 2, 2004

Terrorist involvement in Philippine ferry disaster?

According to local media reports, 134 people are still missing from the 10,181 gt, 1981-built Philippine ferry Superferry 14, which was en route to Bacolod City and Cagayan de Oro City with 899 people on board when it caught fire on Manila Bay early Friday, February 27. More than 700 people were rescued and one passenger was confirmed killed.

Philippine Coast Guard chief Vice Admiral Arturo Gosingan is reported by the Philippine Inquirer as saying salvage teams have nearly finished inspecting the bowels of the passenger ship, which was consumed by flames after an explosion early Friday.

"We already made a half-sweep and 70 percent of the ship has been searched," Gosingan said. "There are no signs of life, but there are also no dead bodies. So far we only found debris."

TERRORIST CLAIMHe said it was hoped the missing passengers had been rescued by fishing vessels that responded to the ferry's distress call but had not bothered to report back to the authorities.
The 10,192-ton ship was en route to Bacolod City and Cagayan de Oro City with 899 people on board when it caught fire. More than 700 people were rescued and one passenger was confirmed killed.

The missing passengers are not the only mystery. The Philippine Inquirer reports the Abu Sayyaf terrorist organization as claiming to be behind the explosion that sparked the fire which gutted the ferry.


Abu Sayyaf chief Khadaffy Janjalani said a suicide bomber named Arnulfo Alvarado was Passenger 51 on SuperFerry 14, reports the newspaper.


Alvarado's real name is Abu Muadz, a native of Pata Island in Sulu province, according to the Abu Sayyaf chief.


A BBC report says that Admiral Gosingan confirms that Alvardo was on the ship's manifest and was one of the 133 passengers still missing. But he denied that the discovery of Alvarado's name meant that Abu Sayyaf was involved in the incident.

"They could have just said anyone on the list of missing is one of their members," he said.

Philippines President Gloria Arroyo has also continued to dismiss the Abu Sayyaf's claims.

"The truth behind this incident in emerging: no terrorists, no missing bodies. ," she said in a statement today. She added that "the search and retrieval operations will not be called off until we are sure that there are no more bodies inside the ill-fated passenger ship. "

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