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Why Phl should not shrug off Japan terror warning

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JAPAN’S Embassy is on guard for possible terror threats in the Philippines, warning its citizens here to observe caution and remain alert at all times. / PHOTOGRAPH BY YUMMIE DINGDING FOR THE DAILY TRIBUNE @tribunephl_yumi

On the surface, the six countries mentioned by Japan as potential terror targets have feigned surprise over the recent Summer Olympics host’s security alert to its citizens, but that’s how reactions are when details on such matters are pressed.

Japan’s Foreign Ministry on Monday cautioned its citizens from patronizing west-owned facilities, joining crowds, visiting religious places and gatherings as it reported “increased risks such as suicide bombing” in Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Myanmar.

It was rare for Japan to issue such a warning, but then again, it had just come from a successful hosting of the Olympics and the Paralympics for which it heightened security preparations. It may have received the information from its security and intelligence offices and allies before or during the said international events.

Again, on the surface, Japan is said to have not shared information about the supposed terror attack/s with the countries it named as targets.

That was the claim of Tanee Sangrat, speaking for Thailand’s Foreign Ministry, via a tweet that said, “News that Japanese MFA’s sent emails to Japanese citizens in Southeast Asia against possible terrorist acts, Japanese Embassy in Thailand informed that it was an instruction (from) Japanese MFA and could not elaborate on the info and it was NOT specific to Thailand.”

Similarly, Malaysian police’s counter-terrorism Chief Normah Ishak — the first female to occupy that position — branded Japan’s warning as a “routine” measure.

The Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines, meanwhile, did not deviate from their ASEAN counterparts’ statements, claiming they have not received any official report about the threat.

Eduardo Meñez, DFA Assistant Secretary, however, said: “This type of information may have been shared among intelligence agencies,” to which AFP spokesperson, Col. Ramon Zagala, replied with an assurance that the Philippine government takes these matters seriously.

“We constantly validate all reports on security matters and it is a continuous process. As per last review, our threat level is moderate,” Zagala assured.

The Philippines could not discount such a warning as its experience as a hub of extremist terror cells runs deep in its recent history. The new face of global terror was hatched and took off to be executed from this tiny dot on the world map.

‘Bojinka’
A freak apartment fire in the hours bridging 6 and 7 January of 1995 led to the discovery of an intricate plot to assassinate the late Pope John Paul II, bomb a dozen planes in flight from Asia to the United States, shut all airports around the globe, and send a kamikaze plane to the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) office in Virginia.

They crafted “Oplan: Bojinka” in that small hole.

No intel agency had gotten wind of it before, but a fluky plan by former policewoman Aida Fariscal to nail possible terror suspects paid off when she returned to the scene of the fire in Room 603 of the Josefa Apartments in Quirino Avenue, Manila, hours after firemen dismissed it as a result of an adventurous firecracker play by its two foreigner occupants.

Fariscal sensed more than a prank gone wrong in the incident. Besides, shopping mall bombings in Makati and Cebu had alerted the Philippine National Police of a bigger terror act just weeks before, when the country was celebrating the Christmas season.

Also, on 11 December 1994, Yousef had successfully sneaked a bomb that ripped through a part of Philippine Airlines Flight 434 on its way from Cebu to Tokyo.

Prior to that, on 12 November 1994, Philippine intelligence operatives had stopped an assassination plot against US President Bill Clinton, who made a five-day visit to the country.

That botched plan was credited to Osama bin Laden, who had yet to become infamous as leader of the al-Qaeda, but was funding the two Pakistanis who developed the bombs discovered by Fariscal in that Manila apartment. It was done through elaborate banking transactions that financed the plan that gave birth to the 9/11 attacks in 2001.

Two Pakistanis — Ramzi Yousef and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — were uncloaked.

Terror history
Yousef was tagged as one of the perpetrators of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the bombing of Philippine Airlines Flight 434. He was nabbed in a guest house in Islamabad, Pakistan — with a baby doll bomb in hand — by the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and US Diplomatic Security Service. He is serving life sentences in Colorado.

Mohammed, Yousef’s maternal uncle, emerged at a military commission hearing at Guantánamo Bay last week — his execution stalled despite his attempt to plead guilty and head straight to execution when the Barrack Obama-Joe Biden administration moved his military trial to a federal criminal court in an attempt to shut down the controversial prison for terror suspects in Cuba.

Like the Japan terror warning, the Philippine government shared all information extracted from Yousef and Mohammed to the United States.

In a manner that harked back to its failure to stop the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1940, the US suffered its worst single-day post-World War II setback on 11 September 2001 when the Bojinka seed grew into what is now known as the biggest terror attack ever.

This, despite the Philippine findings and warnings six years before.

The Philippines could not shrug off the Japan terror warning lest it suffers the United States’ fate two decades before.

Department of National Defense spokesperson Arsenio Andolong gave the reassurance that the country remains on “heightened alert” on terror since the Marawi siege by the Maute Group, formerly known as the Dawlah Islamiya, a local terror cell that shifted allegiance from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, to the al-Qaeda and then the ISIS.

Police Chief General Guillermo Eleazar also reiterated that the force is validating the Japan warning.

That’s how far their statements could go, but enough for a reassurance that local security forces are on their feet.

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