Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo says security forces have foiled a plan to bomb civilian targets in Manila, a terror strike she says that was on the scale of the attacks in Madrid earlier this month.
An anti-terrorism task force has arrested six members of Islamic extremist group Abu Sayyaf and seized TNT explosives.
“We have pre-empted a Madrid-level attack on the metropolis by capturing an explosive cache of 80 pounds — or 36 kilograms — of TNT which was intended to be used for bombing malls and trains in metro manila,” she told national television on Tuesday.
One hundred and ninety people died in the March 11 train bombings in Madrid, Spain.
Philippines Defense Secretary Eduardo Ermita told CNN the Manila plot was foiled by a series of arrests that began on March 22.
He said several of the suspects had been linked to other attacks or extremist violence in the Philippines.
One of the suspects arrested claimed responsibility for a February 27 blast and fire aboard a passenger ferry that killed more than 100 people, Ermita said. The Abu Sayyaf claimed responsibility for the incident but officials have not yet determined the cause of the blast.
The other suspects were implicated in an October 2002 bombing in the southern city of Zamboanga that killed one U.S. serviceman, the beheading of American hostage Guillermo Sobero in the same year and a string of kidnappings, Ermita told CNN.
“There are follow-up operations going on,” Ermita said, noting the investigation was ongoing.
“They [the four suspects] continue to be under tactical interrogation to find out if there are other cells here in the metropolis or in others places in the Philippines and to find out whether they still have the capability of undertaking any kind of activity in case they still have some explosives in their possession.”
Sobero was among 20 people, including three Americans, kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf from a resort on Palawan island in May 2001.
The Abu Sayyaf, which is linked to al Qaeda and on the U.S. list of terrorist organisations, is one of several Islamic militant groups fighting the government in and around the southern, mainly Muslim region of Mindanao.
The government has branded the group as rogue bandits and rates them a spent force after a military offensive against them.
Manila claims the group’s size has been whittled down from about 1,000 fighters to 300 after U.S. troops and instructors assisted Filipino forces to dislodge the militants from their southern base on Basilan island.