Gov't secures likely JI targets ahead of Bush visit

Posted: 6:51 PM (Manila Time) | Oct. 09, 2003
Agence France-Presse

POTENTIAL targets of terror attacks have been identified and secured in the lead up to next week's visit to the Philippines by US President George W. Bush, officials said Thursday.

The fear of attacks by Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), a Southeast Asian terror network with links to al-Qaeda, has prompted one of the heaviest security blankets ever to cover Manila, considered a top US ally in the anti-terror campaign.

Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Lucero said the military was also intensifying efforts to recapture JI bomb marker Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, whose July escape from a prison cell inside the national police headquarters in Manila has been an enormous embarrassment to the government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Security at embassies, diplomatic residences, malls, clubs and hotels has been boosted ahead of the eight-hour visit the US leader is scheduled to make to Manila on October 18, Lucero said.

"With al-Ghozi on the loose, we presume that he has already contacted some of his companions outside the Philippines so we're very much concerned about the movements of the JI here in the Philippines," he said.

JI has been blamed for a string of attacks in the region, including the bombings on the Indonesian resort island of Bali in October last year that killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists.

The Philippines accuses the militant Islamic network of waging bomb attacks around Manila that killed 22 people in December 2000.

Australian Defense Minister Robert Hill warned in Canberra on Thursday that JI's network appears intact despite arrests around Southeast Asia and of a potential renewed focus on targets in the predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines.

Manila is "the most target-rich environment in Southeast Asia," he said, with its Western-style nightspots, hotels and fast-food franchises the kind of soft targets that fit with, and appeal to, JI's operating mode.

Philippine national security chief Roilo Golez acknowledged there was a "general alert" for retaliatory attacks in the region following the arrest of suspected top JI leader Hambali in Thailand in August.

He insisted, however, "There is no specific threat against any particular country. There's no specific JI threat against the Philippines."

Military officials, meanwhile, said they believed they were closing in on Al-Ghozi after a Filipino Muslim militant who escaped with him in July was recaptured in the country's south on Wednesday.


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