Police said Thursday they thwarted planned attacks on an airport, malls, a church and U.S. troops with the arrests of three members of an al-Qaida linked terror group who allegedly came to the Philippines to train Muslim militants to make bombs.
The two Indonesians and a Malaysian – all alleged Jemaah Islamiyah members – were arrested in southern Zamboanga city in December along with a Filipino member of the Abu Sayyaf Muslim extremist group with bomb-making manuals, bomb parts and money for attacks, officials said.
“We were able to foil an attempt to bring into the country terrorists with firearms, with training materials, with explosives, before they can do their thing,” Interior Secretary Angelo Reyes told reporters as the men were presented to media. One of them shouted “Allahu akbar!” – or “God is great.”
The men allegedly belonged to a previously unknown Jemaah Islamiyah terror cell in the country, the authorities said. The arrests were not immediately announced to allow authorities time to identify six of their local comrades, one of whom has been arrested, said Chief Supt. Ismael Rafanan, head of the police Intelligence Group.
Police intelligence officials said the targets included a Roman Catholic church and the airport in the bustling port city of Davao, unspecified malls in Manila and U.S. soldiers participating in joint training with the Philippine military.
Authorities recovered bomb components, about $7,000 and at least two pistols from the four, who were located in part due to intelligence provided by Indonesia and Malaysia. While under surveillance, they were monitored meeting some Abu Sayyaf members, officials said.
The money was intended to finance the attacks and training to make explosives, including car bombs to be organized by Jemaah Islamiyah in the southern region of Mindanao, officials said.
The arrests are an indication of continuing collusion between foreign militants and local Muslim radicals. They also rekindled concerns over the government’s limitations in dealing with terrorism and the need for the public to help guard against attacks.
“We couldn’t place an intelligence operative in every nook and corner of the country,” Rafanan said.
The four have been charged with illegal possession of explosives and firearms. The foreigners also violated immigration laws, police said.
Authorities identified the suspects as Mohammad Nasir Hamid and Mohammed Yusop Karim, both of Indonesia; Ted Yolanda of Malaysian; and Muhajir de la Merced of the Philippines. They appeared to be in the mid- or late-20s.
Rafanan said investigators were trying to verify whether the four have links with suspected Muslim militants responsible for three almost-simultaneous bombings that killed eight people in Manila and the southern cities of General Santos and Davao last week.
Jemaah Islamiyah is blamed for several deadly attacks in Southeast Asia, including bombings on Indonesia’s Bali island in 2002 that killed 202 people. Authorities also blame the group for a series of bomb attacks in Manila in December 2000 that left 22 people dead.
Philippine security officials say Jemaah Islamiyah has worked with members of Abu Sayyaf, a small but brutal al-Qaida-linked group on a U.S. list of terror organizations, and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a larger group which has been fighting for a separate Muslim homeland in the southern Philippines.