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‘Madrid-Level’ Bomb Attack Prevented, Philippines Says

Times Staff Writer

Philippine officials announced Tuesday that they had averted a “Madrid-level” bombing attack on shopping malls and trains here with the arrest of four alleged members of the Abu Sayyaf militant group.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said in a nationally televised speech that the suspects were caught with 80 pounds of TNT and had previously taken part in some of the Philippines’ most notorious kidnappings and killings, including the 2001 beheading of hostage Guillermo Sobero of Corona, Calif.

“The most dangerous terrorist cell of the Abu Sayyaf has been dismantled,” said Arroyo, who is running for reelection in a tight campaign.

Authorities did not disclose details of the alleged plot, but Arroyo likened it to the March 11 train bombings that killed 191 people in Spain. “We have preempted a Madrid-level attack on the metropolis,” she said.

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Abu Sayyaf is known for its kidnappings of foreign tourists, but authorities said it might be shifting tactics in line with two of its allies, Al Qaeda and the Southeast Asia-based Jemaah Islamiah terrorist network.

Authorities say leaders of Jemaah Islamiah and Abu Sayyaf trained at Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, although there had been little evidence in the past that the latter coordinated its efforts with the others.

“Abu Sayyaf may have shifted from kidnapping to terrorism because they found that kidnapping is no longer a lucrative business,” Defense Secretary Eduardo Ermita said in an interview. “We are not saying they have totally shifted, but they have political objectives. They are linked with JI and Al Qaeda.”

The four suspects were arrested in the last week after a citizen reported hearing one of them, Redondo Cain Dellosa, brag that he had helped bomb a ferry Feb. 27. Abu Sayyaf claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed more than 100 people. However, investigators have cast doubt on the claim and say they have not determined the cause of the sinking.

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Dellosa’s arrest led authorities to Alhambser Manatad Limbong, alias Hassan Sayyaf, who is reportedly the cousin of Abu Sayyaf leader Khadafi Abubakar Janjalani. Authorities say witnesses and a former hostage have identified him as the man who killed Sobero, a tourist kidnapped from a resort on the island of Palawan in May 2001.

Limbong, the cell’s alleged leader, also was accused of a bombing that killed a U.S. Green Beret in Zamboanga City in 2002.

The other suspects, Radzmar Sangkula Jul and Abdulrasid Lim, were taken into custody over the weekend. Jul, said to be an explosives expert, is accused of helping to kidnap 53 people on Basilan island in 2000. Lim is accused of taking part in the kidnapping of American hostages in Palawan, leading to the deaths of Sobero and Kansas missionary Martin Burnham. Authorities said all four suspects would face multiple murder charges.

Today, police said a fifth Abu Sayyaf suspect had been arrested and a sixth was being sought. Both are also suspected in the alleged plot and in previous crimes.

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Arroyo said that singly or together, the first four arrested also were involved in the kidnapping of tourists from the Malaysian island of Sipadan in 2000, the kidnapping of Californian Jeffrey Schilling that year, the seizure of a hospital on Basilan in 2001 and the kidnapping and beheading of Jehovah’s Witnesses on Jolo island in 2002.

“We have witnesses against these murderers, and the cases against them are strong and airtight,” the president said.


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