The Philippine military and police went on full alert yesterday as the predominantly Catholic country prepared for Easter holidays under a cloud of terror threats.
Director General Arturo Lomibao assured the public that they can continue with their plans for the Holy Week, but urged them to remain vigilant against possible attacks.
Police warned that the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group was plotting bomb attacks during the Easter holidays in retaliation for the killing of 22 rebels in a prison revolt last week. Authorities have identified up to six Abu Sayyaf rebels and three militants from the regional Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) group who would allegedly implement plots in Manila and key southern cities.
"We are not sure where they are but we are doing our best to hunt them down," said Chief Superintendent Ismael Rafanan.
Rafanan said one of the JI militants was working with up to six Abu Sayyaf rebels, while the other two JI bombers belonged to a different cell operating independently.
The alleged targets of the attacks include shopping malls and Catholic churches, where Filipinos often flock to during the lenten break. Officials said some 10,000 policemen are being deployed around Manila to guard the potential targets, including bus terminals, airports and seaports which were expected to be crowded. Many Filipinos also take advantage of the Holy Week to visit their provinces for a vacation or a family reunion.
Last month, the Abu Sayyaf claimed responsibility for three near-simultaneous bomb attacks in Manila and two cities, killing 12 and injuring more than 140 others.