Two more Abu Sayyaf bomb plot suspects held in Manila

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 April, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 April, 2004, 12:00am

Security is tightened in the Philippine capital ahead of Catholic Holy Week

Philippine police yesterday announced the arrest of two more members of an Islamic militant cell suspected of planning bomb attacks in Manila, as the government tightened security in the capital ahead of the Catholic Holy Week.

A police official said the two were caught on Sunday while meeting police agents posing as Islamic radicals in Manila. Only one of the suspects arrested yesterday was identified. Police named him as Walter Ancheta Villanueva, adding he had converted to Islam and taken the name Abdul Wali.

Five of the six bomb plot suspects captured so far are Muslim converts, police said, while the sixth, identified as Alhamser Manatad Limbon or 'Kosovo' and tagged as the group's leader, is alleged to be a second cousin of Abu Sayyaf chief Khaddafy Manatad Janjalani. The Abu Sayyaf is a home-grown terrorist group largely based in the remote islands of Jolo and Basilan in the southern Philippines.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had hailed the four breakthrough arrests on Tuesday as averting a 'Madrid-type' atrocity in Manila.

The March 11 bombings in the Spanish capital claimed more than 190 lives and injured 1,800 people.

Her announcement, which coincided with a well-attended rally of presidential rival Fernando Poe Jnr in Manila's Chinatown, edged the actor out of the headlines.

Authorities denied, however, that Mrs Arroyo was concocting a victory in her war on terror to win a fresh term. A top intelligence official bristled at the suggestion, saying: 'What would it profit us to fabricate operations when we would be found out in the long run?

'Why should she give this priority when her priority is campaigning?'

But yesterday, the president was escorted by her newly designated 'anti-terrorism tsar', Defence Secretary Eduardo Ermita, to her political functions, where she told listeners she was the only candidate in May's presidential election who could fight the war on terror.

Mrs Arroyo said on Tuesday that the suspects, who allegedly trained with the Jemaah Islamiah terror network, had plotted to bomb trains and shopping malls in Manila, home to 10 million people.

But while Mrs Arroyo labelled the arrests an intelligence success, they also underscored a failure in preventing the February 27 explosion on a Philippine ferry which killed more than 100 people. One of the men arrested has claimed responsibility, the president said.