Philippines fears the 'big one' after Zamboanga bombings

Updated On: Aug 16, 2005

Manila – The two bomb blasts in the southern port city of Zamboanga on Aug 10 may be the precursor to the much-feared suicide attacks by Indonesian terrorists in Manila and key southern cities. Malls, theatres, bus stations and other public installations in the Philippine capital, the central city of Cebu, and the southern hubs ofDavao and Zamboanga, are under particular watch since they are considered to be the most likely targets.

    Mr Eduardo Ermita, President Glorida Arroyo's chief aide and head of the country's anti-terrorist task force, said in a radio interview on Aug 13: "We have ordered the Coast Guard, the Aviation Security Command, the police and the Armed Forces to closely watch characters, groups where these terrorist threats are coming from. We have stepped up security."
    The security clampdown came after suspected Abu Sayyaf militants set off two bombs in Zamboanga City on Aug 10 during the evening rush hour, wounding 26. 
    "We have forewarned everyone concerned about the efforts of the terrorists, particularly the Abu Sayyaf and JI (Jemaah Islamiyah) to stage attacks," Mr Ermita said. "Our aim is the prevention of possible attacks in places where people converge."
    National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales said he had received an intelligence report that two of the 10 Indonesian suicide attackers who reportedly slipped into the Philippines recently were now in Manila to survey possible targets.
    All the 10 suicide bombers are suspected to be JI members and are believed to be cooperating with the the Abu Sayyaf, a small gang of militants specialising in kidnapping foreigners and carrying out random bombings.
    Mr Gonzales said the Indonesian militants are believed to be working closely with Dulmatin, a top JI operative who allegedly assembled the bombs used in the 2002 Bali bombings.
    Based on past experience, Mr Gozales said: "We have been anticipating that the bombings can happen this month."
    Manila is also worried that the JI's new tack of sending operatives from Indonesia could result in an escalation of terror attacks. 
    "If they are bringing in non-Filipino terrorist agents, perhaps the kind of activities will go beyond the usual bombings we are witnessing today," Mr Gonzales told a forum of foreign correspondents.

* Government orders fresh alert (The Manila Times, Aug 14)

* Philippines on red alert for more bombings (The Straits Times, Aug 12)