Philippine intelligence searching for suspects for the February 14 bomb attacks in Makati, Davao and General Santos – detailed in the last edition of Terrorism Focus – claim to have been swamped with raw information on plots to bomb shopping malls and transport systems. They are also pursuing leads on whether the near-simultaneous bombings, carried out by Abu Sayyaf, were orchestrated by the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) group. As evidence of the link, police authorities on February 24 announced that they had arrested three members of JI last December – two Indonesians and a Malaysian, alongside a Filipino Abu Sayyaf militant – in southern Zamboanga. Authorities confiscated at the time bomb-making manuals, bomb parts and funds to be used for the preparation of explosives. According to the Philippines daily Manila Times, the suspects were “preparing to go into car bombs” which would be carried out by foreign militants, “Filipinos at this point not being ready” (www.manilatimes.net). The targets were to be an airport, shopping malls, a church and U.S. troops.
The February 24 announcement (delayed so as to “safeguard tracking operations”) is significant in that it gives flesh to the suspicions of continued JI training activity in the Philippines, and its increasing collaboration with groups such as Abu Sayyaf, the most active terror group in the country. It also raises concerns over Manila’s strategy in dealing with Muslim radicalism and the potential expansion of JI’s alliances, now that the recent hostilities in Jolo Island have seen Moro Islamic Liberation Front guerrillas ally themselves with Abu Sayyaf militants.