Friday, November 05, 2010

France joins US, 4 other countries in warning of possible terrorist attack in Philippines

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — France joined the U.S. and four other countries Friday in warning about possible terrorist attacks in the Philippines, even as the country's president expressed dismay with what he said were unduly alarmist reports.

In its travel advisory, the French Foreign Ministry said a risk of terrorist attack exists in the entire Philippines and particularly in urban areas near airports, shopping centres, places of worship, hotels and places frequented by foreigners.

The U.S., Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand issued similar alerts early this week that expanded previous travel warnings for the volatile southern Philippines, where Muslim rebels and al-Qaida militants are active, to include the capital, Manila.

Australia, citing unspecified but reliable reports, said an attack in Manila may be imminent.

Philippine Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin has said that the military and police have not uncovered any specific threat. Still, government forces in Manila have been put on the highest state of readiness.

Security has been stepped up at malls and airports, where police increased their visibility with bomb-sniffing dogs and baggage inspections.

President Benigno Aquino III on Thursday expressed dismay at the series of security advisories. He said his government was not informed about the advisories even though they came from the country's allies.

He said they jeopardized the tourism industry and added "unnecessary anxiety to our citizens."

"I think it's blown out of proportion," he said in an interview with ABS-CBN television, adding his government would express its displeasure.

A Philippine official told The Associated Press on Wednesday the warnings may have come from a confidential terrorist threat assessment report by Western security officials indicating that Muslim extremists may attack a popular Manila mall, a trade centre and political figures, including two Manila-based Asian diplomats. The official, who monitors security threats, spoke on condition of anonymity due to a lack of authority to talk to the press.

The Philippines, including its capital, has been hit by deadly terrorist attacks in the past.

Despite years of battle setbacks, Muslim militants, including those from the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf, have continued to plot attacks, at times collaborating with Indonesian militants, according to the military.

Abu Sayyaf militants were blamed for the bombing of a ferry in Manila Bay in 2004, setting off an inferno that killed 116 people. A year later, the militants claimed responsibility for bombings of a bus in Manila and two southern towns that killed eight people and wounded more than 100 others. (By Hrvoje Hranjski. Associated Press writer Jim Gomez contributed to this report.)

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