Fri, Feb 15, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Military uncover plot to murder Arroyo

CANCELED TRIP The Philippine president's visit to a premier military academy this weekend was canceled because of fears that Abu Sayyaf was preparing an attack

AP , MANILA

The Philippine government has uncovered an alleged plot by al-Qaeda-linked militants to assassinate President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, officials said yesterday.

Brigadier General Romeo Prestoza, head of the Presidential Security Group, said "other people" and foreign embassies also were targets of planned terror bombings.

Military chief of staff General Hermogenes Esperon said the plot allegedly was hatched by the extremist Abu Sayyaf group and its Indonesia-based ally, Jemaah Islamiyah.

Arroyo's planned visit to the Philippines' premier military academy this weekend was canceled because of the revelations, Prestoza said.

The reported assassination plot followed an announcement by security forces that they were going on high alert over an alleged communist rebel plan to infiltrate protests to demand Arroyo's resignation over corruption charges.

Prestoza said police uncovered the assassination plot last week.

"It's not only the president who is the target, but also other people ... and embassies," he said without offering specifics.

He said Arroyo's attendance at an alumni homecoming of the Philippine Military Academy on Saturday in northern Baguio city has been canceled and the rest of her schedule was "under assessment."

"I in particular can say if there is a threat to her security and I can say whether she can make a trip or not, and the president knows this," he said. "When I say she cannot [make a trip], she knows and she will follow because she believes what I say."

A police counterterrorism officer said a captured member of the al-Qaeda inked Abu Sayyaf told investigators late last year that his comrades, working with Jemaah Islamiyah and Manila-based Filipino Islamic converts, plotted a bomb attack in Baguio against unspecified targets that was believed to be scheduled for December.

Philippine security officials speculated that the targets could include Arroyo, who did not spend Christmas Eve with her family in the cool mountain resort city as she had traditionally done in the past, or US diplomats, who have a consulate there, said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

The police officer, however, said investigators failed to find other evidence that would back up the Abu Sayyaf member's claim. No bomb attack occurred in Baguio in December.

The Abu Sayyaf and its allies have been blamed for numerous kidnappings, beheadings and bombings, including a blast that triggered a fire that killed 116 people on a ferry in Manila Bay in February 2004.

Meanwhile, opposition leaders dismissed the military's announcement of heightened alert as a ploy to discourage crowds from joining a protest rally Friday in Manila's financial district, Makati, to demand the resignation of Arroyo and other officials.

Political tensions have increased since the dramatic emergence last week of a corruption witness -- former government consultant Rodolfo Lozada -- who linked a former elections official and Arroyo's husband to an allegedly overpriced US$330 million government broadband contract in Senate testimony. Both men have denied the allegations.

Arroyo has since canceled the contract, but has not directly spoken on the alleged involvement of her husband.

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