Wed, Apr 07, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Suspected Abu Sayyaf guerrillas charged

ON TRIAL As the six handcuffed suspects appeared in public yesterday, a former hostage of the Islamic group came forward and slapped two of the alleged gunmen

AFP , MANILA

Five of six suspected Abu Sayyaf members were taken back to their cell after being presented to the media in Manila yesterday. They were arrested for allegedly plotting to bomb shopping malls, trains and television stations in Manila.

PHOTO: EPA

Criminal charges have been filed against six suspected Abu Sayyaf guerrillas who were arrested while allegedly plotting to bomb shopping malls, trains and television stations in the Philippines capital, officials said yesterday.

Police hauled the six handcuffed suspects before television cameras yesterday in their first public appearance since their arrest late last month, when more than 50kg of trinitrotoluene (TNT) and other bomb components were allegedly seized from them.

Several victims of previous Abu Sayyaf kidnappings identified two of the group during the police lineup.

Angie Montealegre, a Manila resident and one of a group of tourists abducted by the gunmen in a western Philippines resort in May 2001 and held for a month before being ransomed, later approached the two suspects she had picked out and slapped both of them.

The Abu Sayyaf, a small group of Muslim guerrillas waging a bombing and kidnapping campaign in the southern Philippines for a decade, have been linked by the US and Filipino governments to the al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah groups behind the World Trade Center and Bali bomb attacks.

"They were caught in possession of these TNT so they were charged with illegal possession of explosives," said Director Roberto Delfin, the national police intelligence chief.

Some of the six suspects also have arrest warrants against them for previous kidnappings on the southern island of Basilan, Delfin told a news conference.

He said the group was sent to Manila by the top Abu Sayyaf leader, Khadaffy Janjalani, to bomb commuter trains, shopping malls and television stations, as well as to kidnap an unnamed politician and the scion of a prominent businessman to raise funds for the group through ransom.

Announcing the arrests last week, President Gloria Arroyo said the government had prevented what she described as "Madrid-level" attacks, referring to the March 11 bombing of commuter trains in the Spanish capital that claimed nearly 200 lives.

A list of specific targets was found in the wallet of one of the suspects, the alleged ringleader Alhamser Limbong, and the police have "informed the concerned establishment to take extra precautions," Delfin added.

The explosives came from the south and were shipped to Manila hidden in fruit crates, Delfin said.

Hermogenes Ebdane, the national police chief, said one of the suspects, Redendo Dellosa, would be put on the witness stand in an inquiry into the fire that destroyed a passenger ferry in Manila Bay on Feb. 27, killing about 100 people.

Police said Dellosa, a recent convert to Islam, had boasted to neighbors that he smuggled a homemade bomb hidden inside a television set aboard the Superferry 14, triggering the fire.

Coast guard investigators said they have no conclusions yet on the cause of the blaze.

Commenting on Dellosa's claim, which the suspect repeated before police investigators after his arrest, Ebdane told reporters: "There was some collated information prior to that and the intelligence community has been working on some other projects. But that statement triggered the concentration of efforts toward these arrests."

Ebdane said he believes the "principal actors" of the bomb plot have all been taken into custody, but the investigation is being expanded to determine "how they were trained, where they were trained and who conducted the training."

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