Metro on alert for terrorist plot
A wanted Asian terrorist with a $5-million bounty on his head and the Abu Sayyaf bandit group may have deployed militants to bomb targets in Metro Manila, according to a Philippine intelligence report seen by The Associated Press on Thursday.
Intelligence operatives fanned out in the metropolis to thwart any attack as the military and police went on heightened alert.
The top defense official said the military was taking the report seriously, although it remains unsubstantiated and comes from only one source.
“We have heightened the alert in so far as the intelligence operatives are concerned so they will be able to monitor and detect the unusual behavior of people whose intentions are not for the good of society,” Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin told reporters.
One of two security officials who were aware of the threat said one date mentioned for the possible bombings was June 12, when the country celebrated its Independence Day, but no attack happened.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic.
The heightened alert comes after the US Department of State on Tuesday renewed its travel warning for the Philippines, saying terrorist attacks could occur in Mindanao and even in Metro Manila.
The US Embassy did not cite any specific reason for the latest warning.
Zulkifli bin Hir
Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, a long-wanted terrorist suspect believed to be hiding in Mindanao, and the Abu Sayyaf have deployed the militants to bomb still unspecified targets in Metro Manila, according to the government report.
The militants belong to the Abu Sayyaf’s so-called Urban Terrorist Group, which focuses on attacks in cities and other urban areas, the report said.
Zulkifli bin Hir, a US-trained Malaysian engineer also known as Marwan, has been accused by US and Philippine authorities of involvement in a number of deadly bombings in the country. Washington has offered a $5-million reward for his capture.
Marwan is one of the few remaining important terrorist figures in Southeast Asia following the death or capture of his contemporaries in Jemaah Islamiyah, al-Qaida’s affiliate in the region.
Marwan used to plot attacks with Indonesians Umar Patek, who was arrested in January in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and Dulmatin, a master bomb-maker who was killed in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta last year.
Philippine troops backed by US training and intelligence have hunted Marwan in Mindanao in recent months.
Patek and Dulmatin, who goes by one name like many Indonesians, fled to Mindanao in 2003 after they were implicated the year before in the nightclub bombings that killed 202 people, mostly foreigners, in the Indonesian resort island of Bali.
On the lookout
Brig. Gen. Tristan Kison, the head of the National Capital Region Command, said he had not seen the report but added that authorities were constantly on the lookout for any threat from “people with bad intentions.”
Chief Supt. Agrimero Cruz Jr., spokesperson of the Philippine National Police, said he also had not seen the government report.
“Be that as it may, the PNP is always on the lookout for foreigners of dubious character,” Cruz said.
Abu Sayyaf bandits were responsible for the bombing of a ferry in Manila Bay in 2004, setting off an inferno that killed 116 people.
A year later, the Abu Sayyaf claimed responsibility for the bombing of a bus in Manila and two Mindanao towns that killed eight people and wounded more than 100 others.
The Abu Sayyaf is based in Mindanao, where Moro rebels have been fighting for minority self-rule for decades.
“Terrorist attacks could be indiscriminate and could occur in other areas, to include Manila. Targeted sites may be public gathering places including, but not limited to, airports, shopping malls, conference centers, and other public venues,” the US state department said in its June 14 advisory.
The latest travel advisory for US citizens replaces a similar warning issued in November last year. At the time, the United States, along with Australia, Britain, Canada, France and New Zealand, warned of possible terrorist attacks in the Philippines, including Metro Manila, but no violence transpired.
President Aquino, however, has expressed dismay at the series of travel warnings, saying the Philippine government had not been informed about the advisories even though they came from the country’s allies.
Mr. Aquino said the advisories jeopardized tourism and fostered public anxiety.
Government officials also have complained that such warnings fail to take into account an improving security situation.
Government troops and police have killed and captured hundreds of Abu Sayyaf bandits in past years, and the few recent attacks attributed to them have been mostly confined to far-flung communities on the southern islands of Basilan and Jolo.
Surviving Abu Sayyaf bandits have been on the run in the jungles and crippled by a lack of funds, according to the military. Reports from AP and DJ Yap