Friday, March 31, 2006

Sayyaf Plot To Seize Ships In Mindanao Uncovered

A sea marshall stands guard on the deck of a passenger ship his group is guarding in Mindanao. (Zamboanga Journal)

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (Ben Balce / 31 Mar) Authorities have uncovered a supposed plot Friday by the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group to hijack passenger ships in the southern Philippines, officials said.

Officials did not say how the plot was discovered, but a report by the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency in northern Mindanao claimed the Abu Sayyaf was also planning to hostage the passengers.

"We ordered a tightened security in all passenger ships in northern Mindanao and put in place contingency measures and authorities are ready to address any situation. We cannot rule out the possibility of a terror attack after the recent bombing in Jolo,” the regional police chief, Florante Baguio, told the Zamboanga Journal.

The report identified the leader of an 11-man Abu Sayyaf team that would carry out the hijacking as Abu Awillah, and that among the targeted were Super Ferry vessels sailing from Manila to Mindanao.

Baguio said the police have intensified its intelligence operation to track down members of the terrorist group in the region.

“We are intensifying our intelligence efforts and initiate appropriate security measures to preempt terrorist attacks," he said. "I have ordered the police to ensure patrol visibility and to secure all sea and airports, including
bus depots, public areas and vital government installations."

Authorities have tagged the Abu Sayyaf group in the February 2004 bombing of the Super Ferry 14, which killed more than 100 people in the worst maritime terrorist attack in the Philippines.

The 10,192-ton ship was sailing out of Manila, with about 900 passengers and crew, when a television set filled with TNT exploded. The Abu Sayyaf owned up the bombing.

Since the bombing of the Super Ferry 14, authorities have deployed secret marshals in passenger ships.

The group was also believed behind Tuesday bombing of a two-storey convenience store building in Jolo island that left 7 people wounded.

It also warned of impending attacks in Zamboanga City and Basilan island in the southern Philippines, where security forces are pursuing Abu Sayyaf members, blamed for the spate of terrorism and kidnappings of foreigners in the region.

The Abu Sayyaf is included in the US terror lists and Washington offered as much as $10 million bounty for the capture of its leader Khadaffy Janjalani and his lieutenants, tagged as behind the killing of two kidnapped US citizens in 2001 and 2002 in Mindanao.

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