Manila – The arrest of a radical Islamist movement leader may have prevented a wave of bombings in Manila at the recently concluded South-east Asian Games and over the Christmas season.
According to the Philippine intelligence officials, Pio de Vera, the alleged number two of the Rajah Sulaiman Movement (RSM) was caught last week in Zamboanga while Mohammed Guiman, an alleged member of the Muslim extremist Abu Sayyaf group was arrested on Nov 30. The RSM is a group of Muslim converts with alleged ties to the Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah, a terrorist network known to be operating in Southeast Asia.
Initial tactical investigation revealed that the RSM had planned to bomb nightspots in Metro Manila during the Christmas holidays. “We have pre-empted what we believe was a major terror plot by Muslim militants,” a senior army intelligence official said. It was added that De Vera had helped plan attacks in Manila scouting for targets in the financial district of Makati and places popular with foreign tourists.
RSM is blamed for the sinking of a ferry near Manila in which more than 100 people died in February 2004, the worst terror attack in the country. Also in February this year, on Valentine’s Day, members of the movement carried out bombings in Manila and two southern cities killing a dozen people and wounding another 100.
De Vera is described as a bomb expert who trained under the auspices of the Jemaah Islamiyah in central Mindanao. The group’s chieftain, Hilarion del RosarioSantos was also arrested in October.
JI and Abu Sayyaf, both Al Qaeda-linked, are now shifting attention to the fringe RSM, which aims to see the “re-Islamisation” of the northern Philippines by revolutionary means, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said.
The ICG stressed that the outcome of the peace process with More Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) remains tied to how counter-terrorism strategies are pursued and it urged the Philippines government to exchange more information with other countries about suspects and to pass an anti-terrorism law that safeguards rights.
“As it pursues peace, the government needs a better security/human right balance: improved anti-terrorism capacity but also humane detention and speedier, more transparent prosecution of suspects,” it advised.
* Manila foils bombings by arresting key militant (The Straits Times, Dec 21)
* Philippines says arrests Islamic militant leader (The Star, Dec 20)
*Duo allegedly planned to hit tourists and SEA Games (The Straits Times, Dec 22)
*Philippines: suspects had planned attacks (The Associate Press, Dec 21)