A terror group is reportedly hatching a plot to stage bombings in Metro Manila, security officials warned on Thursday.
The terror plot immediately prompted the United States Embassy in Manila to issue a travel advisory to American citizens in the metropolis to remain ‘vigilant.
The warnings also came on the heels of successive bomb threats in San Beda College in Manila and Miriam College in Quezon City.
The plot to sow terror in the metropolis has been traced to the Rajah Soliman Movement, after one of its alleged members identified as Ricardo Ayeras yielded a document detailing the operation.
Sources from the intelligence community said Ayeras is an expert bomb maker and is believed to have been involved in the 2004 Super Ferry 14 bombing that killed 116 people.
He is also believed to be behind the bombing in Valentine’s Day 2005 that killed four people and injured 60 others.
Ayeras and his two companions identified as Andrescio Valdez and Ricky Macapagal were arrested on Sunday by the Quezon City police for a traffic violation at the corner of Epifanio de los Santos and Roosevelt Avenues at 2 p.m. on Sunday.
Police said Macapagal, who was driving a motorcycle, could not produce a driver’s license while Ayeras yielded a hand grenade and an identification card under the name “Ely Mariano Faiso.”
Valdez, on the other hand, had identification cards bearing the names “Michael Anderson Sarcia” and “Najib Habalo.”
Authorities said the arrest was the result of a joint surveillance by the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) and the PNP’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, who had known of Ayeras’ links with the RSM.
Ayeras has also been charged in the Awang Airport bombing in Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao in 2003.
Valdez, meanwhile, is believed to be a new recruit, while authorities, declined to reveal additional information on Macapagal.
Security officials confirmed the arrest of Ayeras and his companions but declined to reveal more details because of continuing operations.
“What is important is we are always on guard and we want people to be safe and we don’t want to be an alarmist,” the military source said, a day after Armed Forces public affairs chief Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said there was no security threat in Metro Manila.
The three now face criminal before Second Assistant City Prosecutor Perfecto Lawrence Chua Change at the Quezon City Prosecutor’s Office.
The prosecutor’s office and the Quezon City Police District, however, declined to give other details of the charges.
Ayeras is facing non-bailable offenses.
Military sources confirmed that the presence of Ayeras in the metropolis poses a serious threat although they urged the public not to panic and instead remain vigilant.
“It should not be taken lightly,” said retired police intelligence official Rodolfo Mendoza, who was privy to the police operations against the training camps of the Rajah Solaiman Movement in Pangasinan and Tarlac.
Mendoza, who earlier warned that the country’s security officials should seriously watch out for the revival of the RSM, urged a deeper probe into the actual plans of Ayeras, who is also known as Abdul Karim.
In its advisory, the US Embassy said it “wishes to remind all US citizens to remain vigilant and maintain an appropriate level of personal security in all circumstances by reviewing your personal security plans; remaining aware of your surroundings, including local events; and monitoring local news sources for updates,” the advisory said.
The embassy also warned US citizens not to disturb “suspicious objects or package,” but instead leave the area and report such objects to security or police officials.
The US embassy also urged American citizens to report these incidents to the embassy’s Regional Security Office at (02) 301-2000.
Reacting to the US Embassy’s advisory, Col. Cabunoc said the AFP ‘respects’ the travel advisory by the US, while saying that the military and the PNP will look into the reported bomb plot to ensure the safety of their citizens.
Cabunoc said the US has its reasons to protect its citizens while “we are doing our mandate to protect our citizenry and the same time appeal to the public to provide information of suspicious elements out to sow violence.”
He added that police probers are conducting an assessment of circumstances surrounding two recent incidents of alleged bomb threats in two schools in Manila and Quezon City even as security forces continue to monitor unusual activities elsewhere in Metro Manila and other key cities.
“While we are not discounting the possibility that some quarters may be exploiting the situation to create hysteria and fear, we’d rather take these threats with utmost prudence and due diligence.
“We assure the public of the readiness of the Philippine National Police in addressing any threat of this nature, and thwarting any attempt by threat groups to sow fear and anxiety among our people,” Cabunoc said.
Meanwhile, Malacañang has assured the public that security officials remain vigilant against groups with known links to terrorist organizations after the United States embassy in Manila on Thursday raised the alert against a possible bomb plot.
“Our security officials are not letting their guard down,” Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma said.
“Our Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police are aware of the situation,” he added.
Coloma, however, declined to comment on the US security.
Only last month, an attempt to bomb the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 3 was foiled after security officials discovered a van full of explosives was found in the airport’s parking area.
The group was said to be targeting Chinese interests in Metro Manila, including the Chinese Embassy in Makati City, the Mall of Asia and the DMCI headquarters in Makati City.
The group said the threat on Chinese interests was a form of protest against the Philippines’ “weak stand” on the West Philippine Sea dispute with China.
Mendoza, one of the key personalities in the arrest of international terrorist Ramzi Yousef and the discovery of the Bojinka plot, said it was not far-fetched for jihadists to re-establish cells in Luzon as they have done in the past since a number of extremists remain at large.
Authorities said that even as RSM founder Hilario “Ahmed” Santos was arrested during the 2005 raids, his brother Tyrone “Dawud” Santos managed to escape and remains at large.
Ayeras is reportedly a trusted associate of the Santos brothers.
He is also believed to be a close associate of Jemaah Islamiyah member Umar Patek, a suspect in the Bali, Indonesia bombing, and a student of RSM co-founder Ruben Omar Pestano Lavilla Jr., who calls himself Sheik Omar Lavilla,
Lavilla, allegedly a former professor at the University of the Philippines, is allegedly an important leader of the RSM before he was arrested in 2005 in Bahrain where he worked in the Philippine embassy there.
In another development, tension gripped the Miriam College in Quezon City at 2:41 p.m. due to a bomb threat.
Classes had been suspended in the afternoon.
The QCPD bomb squad conducted an inspection and found no bomb.
An investigation showed a caller claiming to be a teacher had informed the police headquarters at Camp Karingal that a bomb would explode.
Last Monday, classes were interrupted at San Beda College in Mendiola, Manila due to bomb threat, which turned out to be a hoax.
On Oct. 2, Dr. Paolo Joseph Blando, Claret School of Quezon City principal, received a text message at around 9:42 a.m. that a bomb was planted inside the school.
As this developed, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade or DFAT issued its own travel warnings against its citizens on warnings on kidnapping threats, citing southern Philippines, among other countries.
Australia’s advisory came on the heels of a grenade attack on a church in the farming town of Pikit, North Cotabato which killed two people and wounded three others.
Church goers at the United Church of Christ in the Philippines were in the middle of a prayer service early Wednesday evening when the explosion occurred, police said.
A nurse, 54, and a teacher, 39, died from shrapnel injuries, municipal police chief Senior Inspector Mautin Pangandigan said.
The grenade exploded close to where the two women were seated at the back, Pangandigan said.
Two businessmen and a teacher were wounded and were brought to the hospital for treatment, he said.
Police have yet to determine the motive for the attack, Senior Superintendent Aldrin Gonzales, regional police spokesman told AFP.
Pikit, in North Cotabato province, is a known hotbed of criminal gangs and Muslim insurgents.
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