Police have disrupted plots by Muslim militants to bomb tourist and shopping locations in the volatile southern Philippines with the arrests of seven suspects, officials said yesterday.
Police deputy director Avelino Razon identified those detained as operatives of the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group and the Indonesian-based Jemaah Islamiyah who were suspected of plotting attacks to divert attention from an ongoing military offensive against militants on Basilan and Jolo islands.
The arrests included three suspected Abu Sayyaf bomb experts on southwestern Palawan island, a resort province and popular tourist destination northwest of Basilan and Jolo.
Some of the seven detained were armed with explosives.
Razon said the suspects told interrogators they had assembled four improvised explosive devices, one of which was recovered on Sunday near a mosque in Puerto Princesa, Palawan's provincial capital. The three other devices have not been found, he said.
One of those arrested, Omar Jakarain, also known as Abu Moguera, was wanted for his involvement in the 2001 kidnapping of American and other tourists from Palawan's Dos Palmas resort. That yearlong kidnapping saga left several hostages dead, including two Americans.
Military chief Hermogenes Esperon said Moguera was a member of a terror cell connected with Jemaah Islamiyah fugitive Dulmatin, who has been evading a US-backed offensive in the southern Philippines since fleeing Indonesia shortly after the 2002 bombings on Bali.
Moguera was arrested with two other people. Police raided the house of another Abu Sayyaf suspect in Puerto Princesa on Sunday, and apprehended two more people amid fears that terrorists may target the city hall, public markets and beach resorts.
Another man was caught in General Santos city on Saturday, on Mindanao, carrying a homemade bomb he allegedly planned to set off inside a shopping mall, a top police official said.