Trio held in plot to bomb 4 Manila embassies

Investigators says 3 may have been involved in plot to bomb the US, UK, Australian and Israeli embassies.

Philippine authorities have arrested three suspected Middle Eastern militants for involvement in a plot to bomb the embassies of the US and three other countries in Manila, officials said Thursday. "There is a high probability that they are involved in some kind of plan to sow trouble," Cabinet Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita told reporters on the sidelines of an annual antiterrorism and business security conference. One of the militants was arrested in Manila and the two others were captured separately in the southern Philippines recently. Ermita refused to provide details, but two senior Filipino security officials said investigators were verifying intelligence information that the three may have been involved in an active plot to bomb the US, British, Australian and Israeli embassies in Manila. Authorities believe the three may have links with the Indonesia-based Islamist group Jemaah Islamiyah and the Abu Sayyaf, a small but violent southern Philippine-based group blacklisted by Washington as a terrorist organization. Both groups have been blamed for deadly bomb attacks, including the February 2004 bombing of a ferry in Manila Bay that killed 116 people in the country's worst terrorist attack. Funding had been secured for the plot, indicating that the planned attack may be in an advanced stage, one of the security officials said, adding that all the embassies concerned had been notified. At least one of the three suspected militants identified himself as Jordanian, but investigators were trying to verify their identities. One was arrested at a Manila airport on February 15 and followup operations were under way, he said. The two officials were concerned that the threat could be dismissed by opposition groups as a government effort to justify a heavy military and police presence in the capital while President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo grapples with a political crisis over a corruption scandal. One of the officials said there was no indication that the newly uncovered terrorist plot involved a direct threat against Arroyo. Military and police officials recently said, without elaborating, that they have discovered an assassination plot against the president by terrorists. The Philippines is a key Washington ally in its global war on terrorism. It has allowed US counterterrorism troops to arm and train Filipino soldiers battling al-Qaida-linked militants in the country's south, scene of a decades-long Islamic separatist insurrection.