Philippine Star [Manila] & AFP on Tuesday, February 11, 2003
A Philippine intelligence report has linked a senior Iraqi diplomat in Manila to a deadly bomb attack by the Abu Sayyaf in Zamboanga City that killed an American soldier and wounded another in October last year, Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople said yesterday.
Ople made the disclosure to reporters after he summoned Iraqi Chargé d’Affaires Samir Bolus and informed him about the report on the diplomat, identified as Second Secretary Husham Hussain.
Citing a “highly detailed” report from the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, Ople said the NICA had traced cellular phone calls made by the Abu Sayyaf to Hussain.
“It appeared that immediately after the bombing, there was a call to the (Iraqi) embassy” by a man identified by the NICA as an Abu Sayyaf guerrilla, he said.
“The call was to Hussain,” Ople said. “So I have put the Iraqi embassy on notice that these activities are monitored by the intelligence community.”
This is the first time that an Iraqi official has been linked to the Abu Sayyaf. Ople indicated that the government would not try to expel Hussain. “I prefer to give a warning,” he said.
Ople did not say if Hussain played a role in the Zamboanga bombing. He said there would be no further investigation into the incident, even as the intelligence community would be constantly watching the Iraqi diplomat.
Bolus denied the Iraqi embassy has ties with the Abu Sayyaf, Ople said. “He said he was discouraging such links, and that Baghdad is opposed to the Abu Sayyaf,” Ople said.
On Oct. 2, a Green Beret commando and three Filipino civilians were killed when a bomb went off outside a karaoke bar in Zamboanga’s Malagutay district, where US troops were conducting humanitarian missions. Another US soldier was among 23 other people wounded in the attack.
A number of alleged Abu Sayyaf guerrillas belonging to a unit tasked to carry out terrorist activities in urban areas have been arrested in connection with the bombing.
The attack was among a series of bomb explosions blamed on the Abu Sayyaf and other Islamic militants that prompted the government to step up security across the country.
Western intelligence agencies have linked the group to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorist network, tagged behind the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the US.
Ople said the NICA report also said Hussain had been seen attending anti-American rallies protesting a possible US-led war against Iraq.
He told Bolus that Philippine intelligence agents will continue to monitor Hussain’s activities and that he would be held responsible if Iraqi embassy officials and staff commit acts that are inimical to Baghdad’s diplomatic ties with Manila.
“We will decide, based on the continuing intelligence monitoring, if the activities of some Iraqi embassy staff members exceed the normal bounds,” Ople added.
Bolus agreed to instruct Hussain to “cease and desist from actions inconsistent with his diplomatic status and actions that are harmful to the Philippine-Iraq relations,” Ople said.
Bolus made no mention about Hussain to reporters after his meeting with Ople but he denied his reported participation in anti-war rallies. “Not everything in the papers are correct,” he said.
Last week, Bolus was warned by Ople for joining anti-US street protests in Manila, saying the Iraqi envoy had abused his diplomatic privilege.
Bolus told reporters that he will continue to attend any event if he is invited to speak on the standoff between Iraq and the US. “I think I have the right to speak about my government’s view,” he said.
Ople, however, argued that a diplomat should never take a high-profile participation in activities that are against the host country. “Anywhere in the world, such activities would be ground for corrective actions,” he said.
Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes, meanwhile, said military intelligence agents are verying reports that Iraqi diplomats allegedly funded anti-American demonstrations in Metro Manila to whip up international public opinion against a possible US-led war against Iraq.
“If these are true, these are very serious accusations. These would be a matter both for the intelligence community and the Department of Foreign Affairs,” he told reporters when sought for comment.
On the other hand, protest organizer Armando Malay dismissed the reports as “ridiculuous.”
“As far as the university is concerned we use our own meager resources and contributions from students and the faculty to organize our own protests,” said Malay, dean of the University of the Philippines’ Asian Center in Quezon City.
“They always had to say that so they can show their superiors that they are supposedly working hard to gather the best intelligence information,” he told a press conference, organized to register the opposition of academic groups against a looming US-led war against Iraq.
Malay said they will launch a signature campaign to help discourage Washington from going to war.
Philippine authorities have warned of possible “sympathy attacks” by Islamic militants against vital installations and US interests in the country amid US war threats on Iraq.
Last Sunday, police and military intelligence sources said local supporters of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein have “tapped” the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to launch “terror” attacks in the country, mostly in Metro Manila and Mindanao, if the US attacks Iraq.
They said Iraqi embassy officials are aware of the plot. Embassy officials were not immediately available for comment.