updated 4/12/2004 8:40:28 AM ET 2004-04-12T12:40:28

U.S. officials received “extraordinarily high” intelligence about terror threats in the Philippines last month, prompting them to raise concerns with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, a senior American diplomat said Monday.

Charge d’Affaires Joseph Mussomeli said Arroyo took impressive steps after he and other U.S. officials expressed concern over the threats, but that more remained to be done in the war on terror. The threats were also detected by Philippine authorities, he said.

Eight days after the meeting, Arroyo announced March 30 the arrest of six suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf extremist group with 80 pounds of TNT they allegedly planned to use against targets in Manila.

“The thing that was unique perhaps was the information that both the Philippine officials and American officials were gathering was extraordinarily high, so there is an urgency on both sides to talk and discuss what could be done,” Mussomeli told ABS-CBN television.

He denied news reports that U.S. officials told Arroyo they weren’t satisfied with her anti-terrorism campaign. Arroyo is one of Washington’s most vocal Asian allies in the war on terror.

'Stay focused'
A Western diplomat told The Associated Press on Sunday that the U.S. officials urged Arroyo during the March 22 meeting to “stay focused” in battling terrorists.

“They raised their concerns with her and asked that the government stay focused on counterterrorism and perceived threats,” the diplomat said on condition of anonymity. “My impression was that they saw a heightened threat.”

U.S. - Philippines relationsMussomeli did not give details about the threats monitored by the Americans. But Philippine police intelligence director Roberto Delfin said one U.S. concern was the presence of suspected Abu Sayyaf bombers in the capital.

According to a government document seen by the AP, the targets included the U.S. and Israeli embassies along with malls, an oil depot, Manila’s airports, Congress, a power plant, churches, passenger ships, hotels and TV stations.

A Philippine security official said the suspects failed to carry out immediate attacks because they were apparently waiting for money from Abu Sayyaf leaders based on southern Mindanao island.

Although explosives were seized, the militants had not yet turned them into bombs and were just starting to survey a mall, the official said.

U.S. says work 'impressive'
Among those arrested were a suspected Abu Sayyaf guerrilla involved in the abduction and beheading of American hostage Guillermo Sobero three years ago and a Muslim convert who allegedly confessed to bombing a ferry that caught fire in late February, killing more than 100 people.

Shortly before the arrests, Arroyo set up a new anti-terror force led by Defense Secretary Eduardo Ermita.

Asked if he was satisfied with the actions taken by Arroyo’s government, Mussomeli said: “I think satisfied is an understatement. The last several weeks have been particularly impressive.”

But he said more could be done by both the United States and the Philippines.

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