'Madrid-Level' Attack Averted in the Philippines

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - Philippine security forces have prevented a "Madrid-level" terrorist attack on malls and trains in Manila, with the arrest of four terrorist suspects and seizure of explosives, President Gloria Arroyo said Tuesday.

One of the four suspects captured was believed to be the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) terrorist who beheaded an American during a hostage crisis three years ago.

Arroyo told a press conference at an air force base that the ASG's "most dangerous cell" had been broken up by the arrests, which reportedly took place in two separate raids.

Thirty-six kilograms of TNT was seized.

On March 11, 200 people were killed in a series of bombings on trains in the Spanish capital of Madrid.

The ASG is a small, violent group based in the southern Mindanao region, where several extremist Muslim organizations have been fighting for an Islamic state independent from the predominantly Roman Catholic country.

Security experts say the group has close ties to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda and was set up in the early 1990s with bin Laden's direct assistance.

In 2001, the ASG raided an island resort and kidnapped Californian tourist Guillermo Sobero, two other Americans - missionary couple Martin and Gracia Burnham - and 17 Filipinos.

The gang decapitated Sobero days later, and went on to hold the Burnhams for more than a year, before Philippine armed forces rescued Gracia. Martin was killed during the rescue operation.

The Philippine government Tuesday named the man responsible for Sobero's murder as Alhambser Manatad Limbong, one of the four men arrested.

It said Limbong had also been responsible for the killing of a U.S. Army sergeant in an Oct. 2002 bombing at a bar in the southern city of Zamboanga.

The government named the other three arrested suspects as Abdurajid Lim, whom it said had also participated in the 2001 kidnapping; Redondo Cain Dellosa, who had trained under an Indonesian terrorist instructor; and Radsmar Sangkula, an ASG "explosive trainer" who had also taken part in another hostage abduction, in 2000.

Apart from the ASG, Mindanao is home to two other Muslim separatist groups, and is also believed to be used as a training ground for Jemaah Islamiah, the al-Qaeda-linked regional network responsible for the 2002 Bali bombing and other attacks.

Arroyo has been a close ally of Washington in the war against terror, and U.S. forces have helped to train Philippine troops deployed against the ASG.

"Let no-one and no nation underestimate our determination to finish off the Abu Sayyaf, the Jemaah Islamiah and the al-Qaeda cells in the country," she told reporters in Manila.

"For each accomplishment, let us multiply our alertness tenfold in partnership with our allies."

Earlier this week the Philippine and Thai governments voiced concern about a poll carried out by the U.S. Republican National Congressional Committee, which cited the two South-East Asian nations among those sheltering terrorists.

In its "Ask America 2004" policy survey, mailed out in recent months, the committee asked: "Should America broaden the war on terrorism into other countries that harbor and aid terrorists such as Thailand, Syria, Somalia, the Philippines etc?"

The State Department said in a statement Monday that the U.S. government considers both the Philippines and Thailand as strong partners in the campaign against terror.

"We are working closely with both bilaterally and appreciate their cooperation with us and others in the region, including Thailand's success in capturing the [JI] terrorist leader Hambali and Philippine efforts against the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group," it said.

"We are also grateful for the deployment of Thai and Filipino troops to Iraq and Thai troops to Afghanistan."

See earlier stories:
Book Recounts Missionary Ordeal in Philippines (June 09, 2003)
US Seeks Justice After Philippine Blast (Oct. 3, 2002)

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow