Manila - Religious militancy has a new face in the Philippine capital - in the form of a group of Filipino Christians who have converted to Islam. National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales has described this group of Muslim converts, even though small in number, as the "biggest headache" facing Metro Manila.
The Rajah Sulyaman Group, comprising former Christians, has ties with the domestic Abu Sayyaf Muslim rebel group and the Jemaah Islamiah (JI), the regional arm of the Al-Qaeda terror network.
"They are the biggest headache because they are former Christians. They are from (the main island of) Luzon, from Manila, so they know their way aroundManila," AFP quoted Mr Gonzales as saying in an interview on government radio on Sept 3.
He added that the group was getting money from the Middle East for its activities.
Abu Sayyaf leader Khadaffy Janjalani had been quoted as saying that his group had trained 80 members of the Rajah Sulyaman Group. However, Mr Gonzales believes that the group has around just 20 actual members.
In the radio interview, Mr Gonzales did not give details of what the group was up to. But he had previously warned that "terrorists" linked to the JI were planning to stage an attack in Metro Manila in the coming weeks.
Chief Supt Leopoldo Bataoil, spokesman for the Philippine National Police, said the police had put in place a "three-tiered defence system" to protect the country against terrorist attacks.
The system includes identifying the terrorists' potential targets, making it difficult for them to succeed in their targets and getting the public to understand the government's anti-terrorism strategy.
"What is important is that we prevent (Jemaah Islamiah) from penetrating urban centres," he said.
A police intelligence officer said six JI members were now on the loose in Mindanao and Metro Manila on bombing missions.
"We don't know yet when and where they will strike, but there are indications that they are gearing up for a big one," he said.
The Philippines is Asia's biggest Roman Catholic nation where just seven percent of the population are Muslims and live mainly in Muslim Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago in the south of the country.
* Converts to Islam biggest threat (The Manila Times, Sept 4)