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Philippines arrests convert terrorists planing attacks on tourist and the Southeast Asian games

December 22, 2005

Philipines suspects had planned attacks

Two captured terror suspects had planned bomb attacks on tourists in the Philippine capital and at the recently concluded Southeast Asian Games, the military said Wednesday.

Military officials presented the handcuffed suspects at a news conference, trumpeting their arrest as a breakthrough in the government's fight against terrorism.

Pio de Vera, the alleged leader of a radical group of Christian converts to Islam, was captured Dec. 15, said Lt. Gen. Edilberto Adan. He had helped plan attacks in Manila, scouting for targets in the financial district of Makati and places popular with foreign tourists, Adan said.

Those attacks were thwarted with the seizure of explosives in a Manila residence earlier this year, he said. De Vera had been ordered to help buy 2,204 pounds of explosives, Adan said.

De Vera's Rajah Solaiman Movement has been suspected of playing a key role in a bombing that killed 116 people on a ferry last year near Manila, military officials say. The movement has ties with the al-Qaida-linked Southeast Asian terror network Jemaah Islamiyah and the Muslim extremist group Abu Sayyaf.

"The arrest of de Vera is a major victory in the government's drive against terrorism," Adan told a news conference. "This arrest is part of the Armed Forces of the Philippines' effort to ensure that this coming Christmas will be merry and safe for all."

The Nov. 30 arrest of the second suspect, alleged Abu Sayyaf member Mohammed Guiman, helped foil attacks aimed at disrupting the Southeast Asian Games, which brought more than 5,000 athletes to Manila earlier this month, Adan said.

He did not elaborate on Guiman's alleged involvement or on the planned attacks.

Adan did not allow reporters to question the suspected militants. De Vera twice shouted "Allahu akbar," or "God is great," as he was led away. He tried to raise his hands in a gesture of defiance but was restrained by his military escorts.

In an interview broadcast Wednesday by ABS-CBN television network, de Vera acknowledged helping plan to bomb a Manila districts popular with tourists.

"Our primary targets were the areas of the Americans because they are the number one ally of our government," he said in an interview while in custody.

The attacks were aimed at damaging the Philippine economy, scaring investors away and weakening the military, he said.

Guiman, in an interview with ABS-CBN, acknowledged working as a courier for Abu Sayyaf. He claimed a rebel commander had asked him to deliver a package to another rebel containing bomb materials used in a Feb. 14 Manila bus bombing that killed four people. Guiman said he had been unaware of the package's contents.

De Vera was allegedly trained in bomb-making by Jemaah Islamiyah and met Abu Sayyaf leader Khaddafy Janjalani while hiding in the southern Philippines, the military said.

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