THE military has launched a search in Metro Manila for explosives that may have been planted by three suspected terrorists who were arrested in Quezon City on Sunday, an official admitted on Thursday.
The admission came as the United States Embassy in Manila warned its citizens to be extra vigilant in light of an uncovered plot to bomb targets in Metro Manila.
On Monday, the police arrested three suspected terrorists, including Ricardo Ayeras, a suspected al-Qaeda member based in the Philippines.
A military intelligence official who asked not to be named because he had no clearance to talk about the issue said even if Ayeras is behind bars, he remains a threat.
The source said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is not discounting he possibility of a terror attack in Metro Manila especially with the arrest of Ayeras, who is on the sanction list of the United Nations Security Council for his alleged terrorism activities.
The intelligence official said documents seized from Ayeras and his group detailed their plan to sow terror in the Metro Manila or National Capital Region (NCR).
“We have the documents. We are always vigilant,” the official noted.
“We are always on the safe side, any smoke, any indication, we check it,” he said.
Although the military has not confirmed the contents of the documents, security troops are scouring some areas in Metro Manila to find the explosives that may have been planted by Ayeras’ group before their arrest.
The intelligence official refused to identify the areas where searches are being conducted, saying they did not want to unduly alarm the public.
The source said conducting searches is difficult because security troops have to acquire search warrants in some instances.
“Hindi lang kami pwedeng arbitrarily pasok ng pasok, makakasuhan din kami [We cannot conduct arbitrary searches because we can be sued]. We have to operate through legal framework. We cannot shortcut the process, we just follow proper legal procedures,” he explained.
The source expressed belief that the plot to bomb Metro Manila is premised on the plan of the Rajah Sulaiman Movement (RSMG), an underground Muslim group.
Ayeras and his companions, he said, are confirmed members of the RSM, which is believed to have forged an alliance with the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and the regional military group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).
The ASG and JI are both linked to al-Qaeda, an international terrorist group founded by Osama bin Laden.
The RSM’s members include Filipino Christians who have converted to Islam.
It was founded in 1991 by suspected terrorist Hilarion del Rosario Santos alias Ahmed Santos.
Ayeras and his two companions, Andrescio Valdez alias Sabri Sindayen and Ricky Macapagal alias Abudrahim, were on board a motorcycle when flagged down by policemen near Muñoz Market on EDSA and Roosevelt Avenue on Sunday for a traffic violation.
During investigation, it was found out that Ayeras was among the suspects in the bombing of Awang Airport in Maguindanao on February 20, 2003.
Ayeras was first arrested on January 3, 2007 for his alleged participation in the February 2005 Valentine’s Day bombing of a passenger bus in Manila that killed six people and injured more than 100 others.
But he, along with several of his co-accused, was released from jail due to technicalities.
As an offshoot of Ayeras’ arrest, the US Embassy in Manila also on Thursday called on Americans in the country to be vigilant.
“The embassy 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,” according to a security message.
It warned Americans not to disturb “suspicious objects or packages.” Those who notice such packages are advised to notify appropriate officials such as a police officer or a building security staff.
“If you are in the vicinity when a security threat occurs, leave the area immediately. Do not approach the scene of a bombing or remain in the area,” the embassy said.
The AFP also on Thursday called on the public to report to authorities any suspicious activity that may disrupt the peace and security in Metro Manila.
Army spokesman Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said the military intelligence community, in coordination with the police, is closely monitoring the situation to ensure the safety of the people, including Americans and other foreigners.
“We respect the decision of the US Embassy in coming upwith an advisory [for their citizens], and we in the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and even our partner, the Philippine National Police, are monitoring [the situation]as we wanted to ensure the safety of our people and [foreigners]here in our country,” Cabunoc added.
He said though that except for the recent arrest of the three suspected terrorists, no intelligence report has reached his office about an alleged plan by terrorists to bomb Metro Manila.
“We have not receive any report at the Armed Forces of the Philippines if there is really a plan to bomb the public and sow chaos in Metro Manila,” Cabunoc added.
In September, an attempt to bomb the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 was exposed when a van full of explosives was found in the airport’s parking area.