Philippines could be next: Hill

By Brendan Nicholson
Canberra

The Philippines could be the next major target of terrorist bombers, with hotels, nightclubs and fast-food stores among the likely targets, Defence Minister Robert Hill has warned.

Senator Hill told a security conference in Canberra that Jemaah Islamiah, the group responsible for the Bali bombing, could focus on the Philippines.

"Manila is probably the most target-rich environment in South-East Asia in terms of Western-style clubs, discos, hotels and symbols of Western culture, such as multinational businesses and fast-food outlets," Senator Hill said.

"Attacking soft targets in a predominantly Christian area fits with JI's modus operandi and would be appealing to it."

A spokeswoman for Senator Hill said later the minister was not basing his comments on new intelligence but on the picture evolving from a range of sources since the Bali bombings.

On September 26, the Foreign Affairs Department issued travel warnings relating to the Philippines, saying terrorists were planning attacks and Australians should exercise extreme caution, particularly in areas frequented by foreigners.

The warning said threats against Australians and Australian interests in the Philippines were high. Further bomb explosions were possible across the country, including in Manila.

Australians should also be alert to the dangers of kidnapping throughout the Philippines, including in Manila and around coastal and island tourist resorts, the department warned.

Senator Hill told the conference, organised by the Royal United Services Institute, that suicide bombings were a possibility, but JI was likely to rely on proven methods of attack such as car bombs. Suicide bombings were a possibility.

He said regional security forces had disrupted terrorist training camps and kept operatives on the run.

Senator Hill also revealed that Vietnam wanted to negotiate a counter-terrorism co-operation deal with Australia.

"There's been discussions between the forces and we're still exploring how this might work in practice," he said.

A likely starting point was for Australia to provide the Vietnamese with anti-terrorist training.

He said Australian special forces officers would make more visits to regional countries.

Meanwhile, Indonesian Security Minister General Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said Indonesia would welcome money from Australia to help improve its education system.

The United States reportedly plans to increase support for public schools in Indonesia to provide an alternative to Muslim schools, some of which are said to be a recruiting ground for terrorists.

General Yudhoyono said that should Australia decide to help in the funding of new schools, it must not interfere with the education system.

- Indonesian police, who have sought access to al-Qaeda and JI terrorist Hambali since he was arrested by US authorities in Thailand in mid-August, have received in-principle approval from the US. No date for interviewing has been set.

- with AFP

09/10/2003

Bron : Melbourne Age

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