Manila– Holy Week in predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines ended without any major incident despite fears that Abu Sayyaf terrorists were planning a bombing spree during the period. However, even as the military proclaimed the “Lenten threat” over, The Manila Times reported that security forces are grappling with a new security threat in Metro Manila: Car bombs.
First the good news. According to a police spokesman, the capability of the Abu Sayyaf to carry out bomb attacks in Metro Manila and other key urban centres in thePhilippineshad become “almost nil”.The military also gave a similar assessment following the arrest of a key Jemaah Islamiah operative and the seizure of 600kg of bomb materials last week.
The only reported incident related to the heightened state of security alert wasthe discovery of a small bomb outside the Spanish Embassy inACTTowerBuildinginMakatiCityon March 26. Police managed to detonate the homemade bomb, which they said did not seem to reflect the handiwork of terrorists.
Intelligence reports had said earlier that the Al-Qaeda-linked Ani Sayyaf was lining up retaliatory attacks for the death of 22 of its members during an abortive prison outbreak two weeks ago.
The threat “is almost nil in the sense that we have kept them on the run, and we have already arrested (some key members), and the remnants are kept on the run and off balance”, said Senior Superintendent Leopoldo Bataoil, a spokesman for the Philippine National Police.
Asenior military official struck a more optimistic note.
“There is no more threat. We have arrested them and confiscated their bombs," said Lt-Gen Allan Cabalquinto, chief of the National Capital Region Command.
"The rest are in hiding, and we are continuing our follow-up operations," he said.
However, The Manila Times reported that soliders and police are now on alert for the possibility of terroristscrashing vehicles laden with explosives into intended targets.
A military intelligence officer inCampAguinaldosaid the Abu Sayyaf and the Jemaah Islamiah are teaming up for the car bomb attacks.
The officer, who asked not to be named, said they have information that three members of the JI willlink up with cells run by the Abu Sayyaf and the Rajah Solaiman Movement, a group of Christians who have embraced Islam, in carrying out the attacks.
The cars to be used in the attacks arebeing fitted with bombs somewhere inCentral Luzon, the officer said.
Intelligence agents are in Bicol hunting for Akmad Santos, the RSM leader reportedly directing the terrorist operations in Metro Manila, he said.
Presidential Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita stressed the need for the authorities to stay on heightened alert.
“We still cannot take chances [because] there is always a possibility that some [terrorist] could slip past our net so we are still on heightened alert,” Mr Ermita said .
* Terrorists shift to car bombs (The Manila Times, March 28)
* Lenten terror threat over, says military (Inquirer News Service, March 28)