MANILA -- A man listed by the Muslim extremist group Abu Sayyaf as one of its suicide bombers was aboard a ferry carrying 899 people that caught fire last week after an explosion, the coast guard chief said yesterday.
But Vice Admiral Arturo Gosingan said there was no indication so far that a bomb caused the blaze that gutted the Superferry 14 shortly after it left Manila on Friday. Police dogs checked the ferry before it departed. One body has been found but at least 134 people remain missing, officials say, including the Abu Sayyaf member.
The Al Qaeda-linked group claimed responsibility for the explosion and identified the "suicide bomber" as Arnulfo Alvarado, 33, the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper reported.
However, the government has dismissed Abu Sayyaf's claim of responsibility as propaganda.
Police intelligence reports have cited the ferries, one of the main forms of travel in the sprawling archipelago, as a potential target for Abu Sayyaf, which is on a US list of terrorist groups and is known for kidnappings, murders, bombings, and banditry.
A spokeswoman for the ship's owner, WG&A, initially said the name of the alleged suicide bomber was not on the passenger manifest.
But coast guard spokesman Arman Balilo said yesterday that Alvarado was on the list of those who boarded the ferry.
Divers, investigators, and firefighters continued looking for the missing inside the wreckage, which was moored in the shallow waters of Manila Bay.At least 70 percent of the half-sunken ferry has been inspected by divers and arson investigators. Gosingan said rescue teams were lifting cargo and passengers' baggage from the 10,192-ton, steel-hulled ferry in an effort to find more bodies. He theorized that victims could have been trapped or crushed by falling debris, baggage, and cargo when the ship turned on its side.
The fire occurred the same day that two alleged Abu Sayyaf members were convicted of kidnapping an American in 2000 and another was arraigned for participating in a separate mass abduction.