x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Philippine leader blasts US, allies over terror alert

Philippines president lashes out at US and five other western allies over what he describes are 'unverified' warnings of a possible terrorist attack.

YOKOHAMA // The Philippine president lashed out at the United States and five other western allies on Friday for issuing what he said were unverified warnings of a possible terrorist attack in the South East Asian nation at a time when it is trying to bolster its lacklustre tourism industry.

President Benigno Aquino III said the Western nations issued the travel warnings last week without consulting his government. The warnings came less than two weeks before the launch of a new government tourism campaign, Aquino told a business conference on the sidelines of an annual Pacific Rim economic summit in the Japanese port city of Yokohama.

The US, Britain, Australia, France, Canada and New Zealand issued similar alerts last week that expanded previous travel warnings for the volatile southern Philippines, where Muslim rebels and al-Qa'eda militants are active, to include Manila, the capital.

Australia, citing unspecified but what it described as reliable reports, said an attack in Manila may be imminent.

"Coming on top of the fact that we will be launching our new tourism logo on November 15, one has to suspect the sincerity of some of our allies," Aquino said in response to a question from the audience.

"We have made our displeasure known to their ambassadors," Aquino said, adding a new procedure has been put in place to allow more co-ordination between his government and any country that plans to issue such terror warnings.

The Philippine government was kept in the dark about the alleged threat, except for an official from one country who sent a text message to a Filipino security officer about the impending warnings, he said.

Philippine defence secretary Voltaire Gazmin has said the military and police have not uncovered any specific threat. Still, government forces in Manila have been put on the highest state of readiness.

Security has been stepped up at malls and airports, where police increased their visibility with bomb-sniffing dogs and baggage inspections.

A Philippine official said on Wednesday the warnings may have come from a confidential terrorist threat assessment by western security officials indicating Muslim extremists may attack a popular Manila mall, a trade centre and political figures, including two Manila-based Asian diplomats. The official, who monitors security threats, spoke on condition of anonymity because of a lack of authority to talk to the media.

Aquino said the information may not have been verified.

The Philippines, including its capital, has been hit by deadly terrorist attacks in the past.

Despite years of battle setbacks, Muslim militants, including those from the al-Qa'eda-linked Abu Sayyaf, continue to plot attacks, at times collaborating with Indonesian militants, according to the military.