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US, Australian agents to grill 3 suspected terrorists

By Alcuin Papa, Tarra Quismundo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 05:47:00 03/14/2008

MANILA, Philippines—Members of counter-terrorism agencies from the United States and Australia are in the country to conduct tactical interrogations and profile three suspected terrorists arrested last month, police sources told the Philippine Daily Inquirer Thursday.

The sources, who requested anonymity for lack of authority to speak on the matter, said the representatives of the US Counter-Terrorism Intelligence Center and Australia’s Counter-Terrorism Unit were observing the investigation of Jordanians Khalil Hasan Al-Alih and Walid Abu Aisem, and Indonesian Bae Haki.

“Based on their own assessment, they can conduct their own tactical interrogation of the three or just read the reports. Their goal is to come up with profiles of the three,” one source said.

The sources said that Al-Alih was arrested at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport on Feb. 15. Aisem and Haki were nabbed in Davao. The sources said that the three suspects had been linked to an al-Qaida plot to bomb the US and British embassies in the country.

Arrested in Boracay

The United States and Australia are keen supporters of the Philippines’ efforts to fight terrorism.

Also Thursday, Philippine National Police Director General Avelino Razon told reporters that the PNP had not received information to indicate a terror attack was imminent.

Razon said operatives were still checking if the three suspected terrorists were linked to Almizbahr Bondial, an alleged Jemaah Islamiyah member, and Mohammad Bani Macarya, said to belong to the Abu Sayyaf group. The two were arrested in Boracay over the weekend.

Border protection

Philippine Air Force (PAF) chief Lt. Gen. Pedrito Cadungog also said Thursday that the United States and Australia had been providing technical aid aimed at bolstering border protection and surveillance in Mindanao.

Cadungog said the initiative dubbed “Coast Watch South” involved the installation of a more effective radar system and enhanced offshore patrolling through more advanced sea and air vessels.

“The concept is still being studied because it’s going to be a massive system and the main idea is to improve protection in our porous border in the south with Indonesia and Malaysia,” Cadungog told the Inquirer.

He said the program involved maritime patrols by the Philippine Navy and Air Force with the United States and Australia providing expertise and technology to improve surveillance.

Both close defense allies, the United States and Australia have been working with local authorities tasked to guard the Philippine maritime borders in Mindanao, a vulnerable backdoor where suspected terrorists were known to have slipped through.

Smuggled goods ranging from illegal drugs to regular commodities, and even persons trafficked across borders have also breached the southern coast.

Surveillance network

“The United States and other partner nations are supporting this initiative and have contributed to the Philippine efforts to build a network of radar stations, surface vessels, aircraft and communication equipment in the southern Philippines to identify and interdict individuals or vessels involved in transnational crime or terrorism,” US Embassy spokesperson Rebecca Thompson said.

The Australian Embassy said its role in the southern Philippines border watch was part of Canberra’s existing defense pact with Manila.

“The Australian Department of Defense and Australian Customs Service have been providing assistance to the Philippine authorities tasked with establishing a Coast Watch South organization which, once set up, will be responsible for monitoring maritime security in the southern Philippines,” the embassy said in a comment sent to the Inquirer.

The embassy said Australia’s participation “complements the contributions being made by other nations toward enhancing the Philippines’ capability to respond to maritime security issues in this region.”

Copyright 2008 Philippine Daily Inquirer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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