Police today captured a leader of Abu Sayyaf, a militant group linked to al Qaeda that planned to use trucks laden with explosives to bomb the U.S. Embassy, the Manila stock exchange and other targets, the Philippine government said.
Abdulmukim Edris, the alleged head of the explosives team for the Abu Sayyaf, told police the group had planned to use cell phones to detonate ammonium nitrate bombs in a series of attacks starting this month, said Gen. Benjamin Defensor, the military chief of staff.
Edris, who has been accused in a string of deadly bombings in the southern Philippines, was apprehended in a suburb of Manila, Defensor said. He faces murder and kidnapping charges.
"We have information on what they are planning to do, and we have given the warning to possible targets," Defensor said as Edris was paraded before the media and presented to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
Two soldiers flanked the handcuffed suspect as he stood, head bowed, behind Arroyo, who held up a picture of a truck bomb that Edris had drawn.
Defensor said Edris was "implicated by his own cohorts" in at least four bombings in the southern city of Zamboanga last month that killed 12 people, including a U.S. soldier, and injured more than 200 others.
The bombs exploded outside a restaurant near a military camp, at the entrance to a Catholic shrine and in department stores in Zamboanga.
Edris acknowledged that his team conducted "casing operations" and "prepared plans" to bomb the U.S. Embassy and other targets in metropolitan Manila "starting November 2002 onwards," the Philippine National Police said in a statement.
Defensor said Edris was trained by two Yemenis to make car bombs using cell phones and digital clocks at an Abu Sayyaf camp on the southern island of Basilan last year.
During his interrogation, Edris described the two Yemenis as "VIPs from al Qaeda," a police intelligence officer said on condition he not be identified.
Police also said the Abu Sayyaf sent an emissary to seek financial support from al Qaeda operatives in the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, in July 2001 for terrorist attacks in the Philippines.
"The al Qaeda operatives agreed to provide financial support and technical expertise to the [Abu Sayyaf] group provided it shed off its bandit image and focus on conducting attacks against the local and foreign enemies of Islam in the country," the police statement said.
It said that three weeks before the attacks in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, two al Qaeda operatives arrived on Basilan island and conducted a month-long "special explosives training" session attended by Edris and several other members of Abu Sayyaf.
Al Qaeda is thought to have ties with several Islamic militant groups across Asia, including Abu Sayyaf and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippines, as well as Jemaah Islamiah, which operates across the region and is suspected of carrying out bombings in Bali last month that killed nearly 200 people.