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Three arrested in U.S. Embassy bomb plot

/ Source: The Associated Press

Three suspected Middle Eastern militants have been arrested in connection with an alleged plot to bomb the U.S. and three other foreign embassies in the Philippines, officials said Thursday.

"There is a high probability that they are involved in some kind of plan to sow trouble," Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita told reporters at an annual anti-terrorism and business security conference.

One of the suspects was arrested in Manila while the two others were separately captured in the southern Philippines recently.

Ermita refused to provide details, but two senior Filipino security officials told The Associated Press that investigators were verifying intelligence information that the three may have been involved in an active plot to bomb the U.S., British, Australian and Israeli embassies in Manila.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Efforts to obtain comment from the four embassies were not immediately successful. Australian officials said they could not discuss security issues.

Authorities believe the three may have links with the Indonesia-based militant group Jemaah Islamiyah and the Abu Sayyaf, a small but violent southern Philippine-based group blacklisted by Washington as a terror organization.

Both groups have been blamed for deadly bomb attacks, including the February 2004 bombing of a ferry in Manila Bay that killed 116 people in the country's worst terrorist attack.

Attack plan 'at advanced stage'
Funding for the plot has been secured, indicating that the planned attack against any of the embassies may already be in an advanced stage, one of the security officials said, adding that all the embassies concerned have been notified.

At least one of the three suspected militants identified himself as Jordanian, but investigators were trying to verify their identities. One was arrested at a Manila airport Feb. 15 and follow-up operations were under way, he said.

The two officials were concerned that the threat could be dismissed by opposition groups as a government effort to justify a heavy military and police presence in the capital while President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is grappling with a political crisis over a corruption scandal.

One of the officials said there was no indication that the newly uncovered terror plot involved a direct threat against Arroyo. Military and police officials recently said, without elaborating, that they have discovered an assassination plot against the president by terrorists.

The Philippines is a key Washington ally in its global war on terrorism. It has allowed U.S. counterterrorism troops to arm and train Filipino soldiers battling al-Qaida-linked militants in the country's south, scene of a decades-long Islamic separatist insurrection.