Friday, October 12, 2007

Al-Qaida Linked Militants Plan Bombings

The Philippines' southern provinces were on maximum alert Friday after police warned that Al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf militants plan to resume a bombing and terror campaign after the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan ends. Former members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a large Muslim rebel group in peace talks with the government, have plotted attacks against major military, police and civilian targets in the cities of Cagayan de Oro, Davao and General Santos, which could include kidnapping of foreigners and ambushes, the national police said in a statement Thursday. National Police Chief Avelino Razon has ordered "maximum security coverage" at possible terror targets, including critical infrastructures, malls, transport hubs, and religious shrines, the statement said. "The ASG (Abu Sayyaf Group) and their allied foreign jihadists, plus some rogue MILF members have taken advantage of the Ramadan to recuperate, replenish their logistic resources, recruit new members and plot their next move," Razon said in the statement. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has declared Friday a nationwide holiday for Eid al-Fitr, the festival to mark the end of Ramadan. The predominantly Roman Catholic country has a Muslim minority in the south, where at least three Muslim guerrilla groups have waged a separatist insurrection for decades."I have directed all my commanders in the field to intensify their security operations against terrorism to ensure a peaceful and orderly observance of Eid al-Fitr," Razon said. Abu Sayyaf commanders and rebels met Aug. 26 near a village in Al-Barka township on southern Basilan island "and drafted several plans to stage bombings in Zamboanga city and other nearby areas after ... Ramadan," the national police said, citing intelligence reports. Western embassies have warned their nationals in recent months from traveling to the volatile south due to possible bombings, kidnappings and other attacks, citing intelligence information and a series of bomb attacks on passenger buses — possibly the handiwork of terrorists or extortion gangs. Muslim insurgents, including members of the Abu Sayyaf, remain capable of producing bombs for new attacks despite years of U.S.-backed offensives that have inflicted considerable battle setbacks and led to the loss of many militant camps, the military and police say. The military estimates that Abu Sayyaf, which has been blamed for deadly bombings, high-profile ransom kidnappings and beheadings, has 300-400 guerrillas, down from more than 1,000 during its heyday in early 2000. The group is blacklisted by Washington as a terrorist organization. Security officials have long suspected that the MILF — which is engaged in Malaysian-brokered peace talks with the government — has operational links and provides sanctuary to the Abu Sayyaf and Indonesian terror suspects hiding in the south. The MILF has denied any links with terror groups and pledged to help the government capture long-wanted militants.