US issues global alert on al-Qaeda attacks
The Philippine government has stepped up security following a new worldwide alert issued by the United States (US) over possible attacks by the al-Qaeda terror network.
In a radio interview on Sunday, Presidential deputy spokesman Abigail Valte said the government, through the National Security Council, has stepped up intelligence gathering and hardened efforts against terrorism.
“We take into consideration the alert that has been issued, and then, according to the National Security Adviser, we are intensifying our intelligence gathering to address the issues that are raised in the alert,” she said.
The United States issued an extraordinary global travel warning to Americans Friday about the threat of an al-Qaeda attack and closed down 21 embassies and consulates across the Muslim world for the weekend.
Valte said the warning was directed mainly at US embassies.
She refused to give details on the security measures “because that is like telling those people who wanted to harm that ‘these are the things that you should go against.”
The Palace refused to say if there was a link between the US warning and the bombing that killed at least eight people in a mall complex in Cagayan de Oro City on July 26.
All Valte said was that the US alert indicates the threat is “directed at western targets.”
“I would not comment on that, considering that the investigation is still ongoing,” she said. ”And if these people read the actual Interpol alert, it speaks of identified areas like the Arabian Peninsula.”
On August 2, the US State Department issued a travel alert warning about the continued potential for terrorist attacks, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, and possibly occurring in or emanating from the Arabian Peninsula.
It said its current information suggests that al-Qaeda and affiliated organizations “continue to plan terrorist attacks both in the region and beyond, and that they may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August.”
“Terrorists may elect to use a variety of means and weapons and target both official and private interests. US citizens are reminded of the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure. Terrorists have targeted and attacked subway and rail systems, as well as aviation and maritime services.
US citizens should take every precaution to be aware of their surroundings and to adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves when traveling,” it added.
The Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) on Sunday said it has not monitored any terror threat in the country but that the military remains on guard for any possible attacks.
“Locally we have not monitored threats from al-Qaeda but definitely we will be on our toes,” AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan said.
Tutaan said the threat monitored by the US may only be directed against US targets but pointed out that al-Qaeda supports the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), an Asian-based terrorist cell with links to the local Abu Sayyaf.
Tutaan pointed out that the Abu Sayyaf is known for carrying out kidnap-for-ransom activities and other criminal acts considered “terroristic in nature.”
The ISAFP earlier confirmed the presence of JI members in Mindanao but Tutaan downplayed this, saying that they are training Abu Sayyaf members on the use of explosives.
Tutaan said the military was able to contain JI and Abu Sayyaf threats through continuous operations.
Earlier, former ISAFP chief Maj, Gen. Ceasar Ronnie Ordoyo also admitted they have monitored the presence of JI members in Mindanao but could not ascertain their numbers.
Interpol on Sunday (Manila time) issued a worldwide security alert after jailbreaks in at least nine countries, including Iraq, Libya and Pakistan, were linked to al-Qaeda. The jailbreak in Libya freed about 1,000 Islamist militants, reports said.
On July 5, the US advised American citizens to avoid traveling to Mindanao and to the Sulu archipelago because of continuing terrorist threats and insurgent activities. Canada and Australia issued similar travel alerts.
WITH REPORT FROM BERNICE CAMILLE V. BAUZON