MILITARY agents and police are hunting down the companions of Ricardo Ayeras, whose group has been tied to a plot to bomb targets in Metro Manila.
Ayeras, said to be a bomb expert and a member of the Al Qaeda-affiliated Rajah Soliman Movement (RSM), was arrested Tuesday along with two companions for a traffic violation.
“We are checking all possible threats,” said a member of the security force hunting down the RSM team.
The source said the bomb plot was mentioned in documents seized from Ayeras, and that a number of his companions were still at large.
The source did not offer any further details of the bomb plot, however.
Reports of the terror plot prompted the United States to issue a travel advisory to American citizens in Metro Manila to be vigilant.
The Philippine National Police played down the threat of bombings, but raised the alert status of its forces from normal to heightened.
“There’s no threat in Metro Mania. The PNP is on heightened alert as part of protocol whenever the President leaves the country,” PNP spokesman Senior Supt. Wilben Mayor told reporters during a press briefing in Camp Crame.
When sought for comment on the US travel advisory, he added: “It’s a procedural action of a foreign government to protect their own citizen. We also do the same.”
Ayeras refused to answer questions during his interrogation, leaving authorities clueless of the group’s potential targets.
Ayeras is believed to be an expert bomb maker who was linked to the 2004 Super Ferry 14 bombing that killed 116 people.
He is also suspected to have engineered the Valentine’s Day bombing in 2005 that killed four people and injured 60 others.
Mayor, meanwhile, warned people behind fake bomb scares that have disrupted classes in Ateneo de Manila, Claret School and San Beda College that such hoaxes were punishable under the law.
Mayor advised the public to remain calm and vigilant.
On Friday, the Quezon City Prosecutor’s Office denied bail to Ayeras, who was arrested for the illegal possession of a hand grenade, and elevated the case to the regional trial court.
Chief Prosecutor Donald Lee approved the recommendation of prosecutors to indict Aeras, a 41-year-old driver from 324 Paraiso St., Mandaluyong City, for the illegal possession of explosives.
The case was raffled off to a regional trial court.
Charges against Ayeras’ two companions, Adrescio Valdez and Ricky Macapagal, were elevated to a metropolitan trial court.
A recommendation for further investigation on charges of falsification of private or public documents against the three men was recommended.
Although the three were arrested on a traffic violation, police said they already had been under surveillance when the were stopped at a checkpoint on EDSA and Roosevelt Avenue.
The Palace on Friday ordered the intelligence units of the Armed Forces and the PNP to verify reports of a terrorist plot.
The Palace gave the order after the United States embassy raised the alert against a possible bomb plot following the arrest of three individuals with links to the Rajah Sulaiman Movement.
“According to the AFP, we are unable to confirm at this time the specific terror plot that is connected to the arrest supposedly of these three suspects,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said.
“However, our intelligence units are seeking to validate or verify these reports and as such, we are asking people to report any suspicious activities that they see to their local law enforcement just to aid in the efforts of our authorities,” she added.
Former Quezon City police head Chief Supt. Richard Albano earlier identified the three men as Ricardo Ayeras, Andrescio Valdez and Ricky Macapagal.
Ayeras is reportedly a member of the RSM, which has links with the Abu Sayyaf Group.
“Rest assured that our security forces will continue to work more closely together, to continue to monitor the situations, and to preempt any criminal activities,” Valte said.
“The President is aware of this particular issue and the President is confident that our security forces know the next steps to be taken,” Valte added.
In its security alert, the US embassy reminded all American citizens in the Philippines “to remain vigilant and maintain an appropriate level of personal security in all circumstances.”
An Armed Forces spokesman said the military is working closely with the PNP on the alleged bomb plot.
Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said the military intelligence units have been coordinating with the PNP in verifying the reports.
Cabunoc also appealed to the public to remain vigilant and cooperate with authorities by reporting suspicious activities.
“We will do our best to protect the people against any threats,” he added.
Earlier, the PNP said its intelligence units “are conducting an assessment of circumstances surrounding two recent incidents of alleged bomb threats on two schools in Manila and Quezon City even as security forces continue to monitor unusual activities elsewhere in Metro Manila and other key cities.”
“Likewise, we are continuously validating all reports related to the recent arrest of three suspects arrested by QCPD,” Mayor said. “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,” he added.
Mayor added that the police took the recent bomb threats against two schools in Metro Manila seriously.
Also on Friday, the Foreign Affairs Department said it saw nothing wrong in the security notice issued by the US Embassy in Manila.
“If you will examine the advisory closely, the US government just advised their nationals to take care and to take precautions. They are not banning them from coming here,” a spokesman said.
Australia also issued its own travel warnings about the threat of kidnappings in several countries, including the Philippines.
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 said. With Rio N. Araja and Joyce Pangco Pañares
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