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Anti-China Group Planned Manila Attacks09/02 06:19

   MANILA, Philippines (AP) -- Philippine authorities said Tuesday that they 
arrested three men linked to a group that was planning to set off firebombs at 
Manila's international airport and a major mall in the city to protest the 
government's alleged "soft" stance in its territorial dispute with China. The 
military, however, downplayed the planned attacks, saying the men were just 
seeking attention.

   The leader of the group and two other men were arrested Monday with four 
homemade incendiary devices found inside their car at one of the airport's 
parking lots, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said.

   Government agents, who were tipped off by an informant, said the men planned 
to set off one bomb at a parking lot restroom and the three others inside one 
of the country's biggest shopping malls, which has ethnic Chinese owners.

   The territorial dispute between the Philippines and China has been simmering 
for years and Manila has occasionally filed diplomatic protests against alleged 
Chinese incursions into areas it claims.

   The Philippines filed a case last year with the Arbitral Tribunal in The 
Hague, questioning China's massive territorial claims over nearly the entire 
South China Sea, angering Beijing.

   De Lima said the "utra-rightist" but "misguided group" planned also on 
Monday the "strafing" of the Chinese Embassy in Manila and a building owned by 
a company operating a power plant that allegedly employed Chinese workers 
illegally.

   "They are not content, they are frustrated over the stance of the government 
against China, which to them is very soft," de Lima said. "They want this 
administration to espouse a tougher stance in its dispute with China."

   The Chinese Embassy urged the Philippine government take "effective 
measures" to ensure the security of its facilities and prevent attacks against 
its diplomatic staff and citizens in the country. "We ask the government to 
conduct a thorough investigation into this case," the embassy said in a 
statement.

   De Lima said the men would be charged with possession of explosive 
materials, a non-bailable offense. The Justice Department also was considering 
filing conspiracy to commit terrorism charges against the three, she said, 
adding that there were other members of the group and the investigation was 
ongoing.

   She said the group considers China and wealthy ethnic Chinese like the 
owners of the mall as enemies.

   Military Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang played down incident and 
described the arrested men as "pranksters" who wanted to get public attention.

   "I don't think it's a terror attack because these were just firecrackers," 
Catapang told reporters.

   Rommel Vallejo, head of the Anti-Organized Crime Division of the National 
Bureau of Investigation, said each of the firebombs consisted of a firecracker 
as big as the palm of a hand with an eight-second wick taped to a plastic 
bottle containing gasoline.

   De Lima said the blast from one of the devices could create a huge fireball 
and send debris flying 5-10 meters (15-30 feet) away, which could cause fatal 
injuries.


(KA)


 
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