Two men arrested in bombings claim more attacks are planned

Wednesday, April 24, 2002

MANILA, Philippines -- Two men arrested in a deadly bombing in the south said they were trained abroad and revealed plans for more attacks throughout the Philippines, police said Tuesday.

The information prompted President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to order a crackdown on terrorists that included a $100,000 reward, a nationwide security alert and plans for curfews and checkpoints where needed.

Witnesses claimed they saw the men put a bag in a motorcycle taxi that blew up in front of a busy department store in General Santos, causing most of the 15 deaths and 71 injuries that resulted from a trio of bombs in the southern city on Sunday.

"We don't know why they want to create disturbances," said Bartoleme Baluyot, police chief for the part of the Mindanao region that includes General Santos. "They said they have people in Manila ... so we cannot just laugh that off."

A rash of warnings via cell phone text messages -- one of the country's main forms of communication -- also focused on Manila as the next target. Similar text messages circulated in General Santos just before Sunday's bombings.

Coup rumors dismissed

The nation already is jittery over possible unrest on the anniversary of a bloody attempt by ousted President Joseph Estrada's followers to storm the presidential palace last May 1. But President Gloria Macapagal's spokesman dismissed a new round of coup rumors and detailed new measures to bolster security.

Included was the deployment of up to 1,000 troops to General Santos, where they set up checkpoints at major entrance points and searched motorists. Transportation officials said they would install permanent metal detectors at all rail stations in Manila.

Private industry took the threats seriously as well. Pilipinas Shell Petroleum Corp. cited security concerns in announcing it has begun phasing out use of a major oil depot in Manila that sits across a river from the presidential palace in a densely populated area.

The investigation into the bombings focused on the tangled web of Muslim insurgency groups in the south where rebels have fought for years to carve out an Islamic homeland. It is a poverty-stricken area where relatives often belong to different groups and provide support for each other.

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