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AFP chief saw no terror threat day before Bohol clash

/ 04:50 PM April 11, 2017
Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Eduardo Año (INQUIRER.net FILE PHOTO / NOY MORCOSO)

Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Eduardo Año (INQUIRER.net FILE PHOTO / NOY MORCOSO)

MANILA — The Bohol fighting between government troops and suspected Abu Sayyaf men erupted on Tuesday a day after Armed Forces Chief Eduardo Año said that the military did not see any terror threat in the Philippines despite the recent warning by the US Embassy in Manila to Americans to avoid going to Central Visayas.

“We have to be vigilant. We would like to encourage the public to report suspicious people, suspicious objects or circumstances so the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) can take immediate, fast counter actions,” Año told reporters during a pre-departure press briefing of President Duterte at the Davao International Airport on Monday.

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“But right now, we don’t see any terror threat,” the military chief added.

President Duterte likewise downplayed the US travel warning, saying the government could handle any terror threats.

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“Kaya natin ang threat of terrorism. Why should you worry about the (US) embassy? I should be worrying about my country, not the (American embassy),” the President said.

In its travel advisory on Sunday, the US Embassy cautioned Americans against traveling to tourist resorts in Cebu and Bohol in Central Visayas, citing “unsubstantiated yet credible information” that terrorists might kidnap foreigners there.

“US citizens are advised to carefully consider this information as you make your travel plans, and to review personal security plans, avoid large crowds and gatherings, and remain vigilant at all times,” the advisory on the embassy website said.

Asked about the government’s response, Duterte said: “We treat terrorism harshly.”

Año also cited the arrest last March of a Middle Eastern couple tagged as Islamic State (IS) members.  He said their arrest foiled “whatever plans they might have to sow terror.”

The military chief said they have established connections between Kuwaiti Husayn Al-Dhafiri and Syrian Rahaf Zina and their Filipino and foreign associates, although he declined to provide details pending investigation.

He said the suspects had set up a “safe house” in Metro Manila where they were arrested last March 25.  They had also visited other areas including Davao City, the President’s hometown.

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“In Davao, ang tingin namin bumisita sila as part of their reconnaissance (We think that they visited Davao as reconnaissance),” Año said. “But they have not established any working cell here. It’s just part of acclimatizing with the country,” he added.

The military chief described Al-Dhafiri as a mid-level IS operative who knew how to assemble bombs and establish cells and provided financial support.

Zina, on the other hand, is reportedly the former wife of the Islamic terror group’s no. 2 man. SFM/rga

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