Powerful armory blasts rip through Philippine police camp

Powerful blasts ripped through an armory at a suburban Manila police camp late Monday, injuring at least four people, damaging nearby buildings and stores and raining debris on nearby neighborhoods, police officials said.

National police chief Arturo Lomibao, who rushed to the scene, said two police officers from an elite branch and two civilians were wounded by the explosions in an armory in Camp Bagong Diwa and played down speculations that the blasts were an act of sabotage or terrorism.

"I'd like to report to the listeners that this is an accident based on initial findings," Lomibao told GMA television. "This is not a hostile attack or a terrorist attack and the situation has been stabilized."

Interior Secretary Angelo Reyes said explosives stored in a warehouse appeared to have detonated spontaneously shortly before midnight. He tried to reassure a jittery public.

"There is nothing to be worried about. It was an accident, that's our initial findings, so we can go back to sleep," he told reporters.

The explosions occurred amid persistent rumors of a coup set off by a monthslong political crisis that has hounded President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who has been accused of rigging last year's elections.

The blasts occurred just hours after Arroyo left for New York to attend U.N. meetings and the military was placed on full alert in the capital.

At least two initial blasts shook the immediate camp grounds and were heard several kilometers (miles) away, witnesses said. The thundering explosions damaged the armory, a logistics and supplies building, a police headquarters and a nearby rehabilitation center for drug addicts.

Smaller blasts followed successively, preventing police and firefighters from immediately approaching to put out a fire at the logistics building, police said.

An undetermined number of patients from the rehabilitation center escaped during the confusion while others were moved to another building, police said.

TV footage showed ambulances and firetrucks rushing to the camp located in a thickly populated residential area in metropolitan Manila's southern suburb of Taguig. Police, brandishing M16 rifles, ordered onlookers and journalists to back away.

Metropolitan Manila police chief Vidal Querol, who was at the camp during the explosions, said he initially thought that the camp was under attack.

"We thought that we were under an attack," Querol told The Associated Press by telephone. "But it's not hostile enemy fire."

SWAT teams immediately tightened security at the camp, where suspected Abu Sayyaf Muslim extremist rebels are detained in a maximum-security jail.

Reyes said an investigation was underway to determine who would be held accountable for the accident.

A fire also struck a warehouse stored with unexploded World War II bombs at the national police headquarters, also in the capital, in February 2004, triggering numerous explosions that wounded at least three firefighters and a police officer, AP reported.

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