Official Says Foreign Terrorists Targeted Philippine Leaders
MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ A terrorist group that targeted Pope John Paul II also sought to kill President Fidel Ramos and police and army commanders, the government said Tuesday.
It was the first time that plots against the Philippine leaders were disclosed.
Interior Secretary Rafael Alunan made the accusation at a news conference where he presented a suspected member of the group, Mohammad Anees, arrested with five others Friday on Manila’s outskirts.
Anees reportedly was a close associate of Ramzi Yousef, who is being held in New York on charges of masterminding the 1993 World Trade Center bombing that killed six people and injured 1,000.
Authorities say Yousef was responsible for plots to bomb American airliners and kill the pope during his visit to Manila a year ago.
Authorities said Anees is suspected in the assassination and bomb plots. He faces initial charges of illegal possession of explosives.
Anees and the other five were arrested Friday in suburban Makati. Officials said they confiscated grenades, dynamite, a disassembled rocket warhead, bomb-making components and travel documents.
Anees’ companions were identified as Raza Begam Hashmi, Bhagi Pervez Khalid, Mian Basit Mahmood, Mohammad Alam, and Mian Idid Mahmood. They also face weapons charges, but authorities didn’t say if they were linked to the more serious allegations.
All six carried Pakistani passports but their nationalities are being checked.
The group is separate from a group of nine terrorism suspects also arrested in raids in the Manila area Friday.
At least 27 suspects have been taken into custody since mid-December in response to what police have described as a plan by Islamic militants to intensify terrorist activities in the country.
Officials have expressed fears that the Philippines is being used as a haven by foreign criminal and terrorist groups, partly because of lax security at airports and inadequate monitoring of foreigners.
Quoting intelligence reports, Alunan said Anees plotted with Yousef and another man, Abdul Hakim Murad, to kill Ramos as well as armed forces chief Gen. Arturo Enrile and national police chief Recaredo Sarmiento. Murad is in custody in New York, where he faces trial on conspiracy charges.
Alunan said Anees also conspired with the two in December 1994 to bomb a Philippine Airlines flight from Manila to Fukuoka, Japan, in a test for a wider plot to bomb American airliners.
A Japanese passenger was killed and 10 others were hurt in the explosion of that bomb, which was placed under a seat in the plane. The aircraft landed in Okinawa, Japan.
Alunan said Anees remained in hiding in the country after police uncovered the plot to kill the pope in January 1995.