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Officials cite plot by al-Qaida-linked militants to assassinate Philippine president

Officials cite plot by al-Qaida-linked militants to assassinate Philippine president

Officials divulged alleged plots to assassinate Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and bomb foreign embassies, just as opposition leaders were rallying supporters for fresh protests urging the unpopular leader to resign.
Brig. Gen. Romeo Prestoza, head of the Presidential Security Group, said the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf group and its allies were behind the plans.
Details were scant, sparking criticism the government was using scare tactics to curtail a planned anti-Arroyo demonstration Friday in Makati, Manila's financial district, and a prayer rally involving the influential Roman Catholic church Sunday that will be led by former president and pro-democracy icon Corazon Aquino.
Arroyo, a staunch U.S. ally plagued by long-running Islamic and communist insurgencies, has lurched from crisis to crisis since taking over in the country's second "people power" revolt in 2001, fending off three impeachment bids and four coup plots. She has two years left in her term.
Her latest challenge intensified last week when former government consultant Rodolfo Lozada Jr. linked an ex-elections chief and Arroyo's husband to an allegedly overpriced US$330 million (euro225 million) government broadband contract _ a contract the president has canceled. Both men have denied the allegations, and Arroyo has not spoken directly about her husband's alleged involvement.
Officials already had announced security forces were going on high alert on concerns that communist rebels planned to infiltrate Friday's protests by leftist groups. An armored army company was being brought into the capital while checkpoints were being set up at key points across Manila.
Military spokesman Capt. Carlo Ferrer said intelligence reports indicated the rebels planned "to create confusion and chaos." The rebels vowed to intensify attacks to weaken the government, but they have largely refrained from assaults that could hurt civilians during their four-decade insurgency.
Military chief of staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon said the assassination plot allegedly involved a sniper ready to attack when an opportunity arises.
Arroyo's planned visit to the Philippines' premier military academy this weekend in the northern city of Baguio was canceled, and her remaining schedule was "under assessment," said Prestoza.
He said police uncovered the assassination plot last week, adding, "It's not only the president who is the target, but also other people ... and embassies."
Renato Reyes, one of the organizers of Friday's protests, scoffed at the allegations.
"Obviously this is a very desperate tactic to create an atmosphere of terror and scare people to prevent them from joining the protest actions," he said.
Esperon denied that.
"We are simply acting as security forces and so we have deemed it necessary that we come out in the open about our assessment of the situation," Esperon said.
A police counterterrorism officer said a captured Abu Sayyaf member told investigators late last year that his comrades, working with Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiyah and Manila-based Filipino Islamic converts, plotted a bomb attack in Baguio against unspecified targets that was believed to be scheduled for December.
Philippine security officials speculated that the targets could include Arroyo, who did not spend Christmas Eve with her family in the cool mountain resort city as she has traditionally does, or U.S. diplomats, who have a consulate there, said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Rebecca Thompson said she had heard media reports about the alleged plot but would not comment further.
The police officer said investigators found no evidence to back up the Abu Sayyaf member's claim. No bomb attack occurred in Baguio in December.
The Abu Sayyaf and its allies have been blamed for numerous kidnappings, beheadings and bombings, including a blast that triggered a fire that killed 116 people on a ferry in Manila Bay in February 2004.
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Associated Press writers Oliver Teves and Jim Gomez contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-10-20 10:55 GMT+08:00