Manila kills 3 militants, links to Congress bomb eyed

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MANILA, Nov 15 (Reuters) Philippine security forces killed three suspected members of an Islamic militant group in Manila today a few blocks from Congress, and said they found evidence that could link the three to a bomb attack on the legislature.

Four people were killed on Tuesday after a motorcycle bomb exploded at one of the entrances to Congress in what police have said was a possible assassination attempt on a Muslim lawmaker. No group has claimed responsbility.

''This is a major breakthrough in the investigation of the bombing,'' said the national police chief, Avelino Razon.

Manila's police chief said police had found potentially crucial evidence after raiding a house used by suspected members of Muslim rebel group Abu Sayyaf.

''We believe the suspects have links to the blast because we recovered a motorcycle plate number and a deed of sale which matched those of the chassis number from the motorcycle we recovered from the blast site,'' Geary Barias said.

They also found an ID card for a Congressional employee.

Two men and a woman were killed in the raid and three men were arrested.

Police and soldiers raided the house, in a village near Congress, because they wanted to arrest the occupants for kidnapping.

An image on the ID card matched one of the three arrested in the suspected rebel hideout, Barias said.

The police have said that Wahab Akbar, the representative for Basilan island, a known base for Muslim militants in the south, was the likely target for Tuesday's bomb.

He had suspected links to the Abu Sayyaf and had clashed with them recently over the beheading of 10 marines on the island in July.

Barias said the use of a motorcyle bomb was a common tactic among Islamic militants on the southern island of Mindanao.

Abu Sayyaf, which had links to Al Qaeda, used a motorcycle in a bomb attack in Mindanao in 2002 which killed a US soldier.

Police said post-blast inquiries showed dynamite had been used as the main charge for the bomb, a mobile phone used to detonate it and nails as shrapnel.

Opposition lawmakers, however, have rejected the police theory that Akbar was the target and are seeking an independent inquiry.

They said the blast might have been meant to frighten political opponents of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who is the subject of an impeachment complaint related to a kickbacks scandal.

Today, House Speaker Jose de Venecia formed a panel to hold a separate inquiry and to propose new measures to strengthen security within the Congress building.

REUTERS PD VC1830

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