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Archive for Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Briefly

March 31, 2004

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Philippines

Four arrested in bombing plot

Philippine officials announced Tuesday that they had averted a "Madrid-level" bombing attack on shopping malls and trains here with the arrest of four alleged members of the Abu Sayyaf militant group, linked to al-Qaida.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said in a nationally televised speech that the suspects were caught with 80 pounds of TNT and had previously taken part in some of the Philippines' most notorious killings and kidnappings, including that of Kansas missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham.

Martin Burnham was shot and killed in a rescue attempt.

"The most dangerous terrorist cell of the Abu Sayyaf has been dismantled," declared Arroyo, who is running in a tight election campaign.

Authorities did not disclose details of the alleged plot, but Arroyo likened it to the train bombings March 11 that killed 191 people in Spain. "We have pre-empted a Madrid-level attack on the metropolis," she said.

Canada

Report: Holes remain in security plan

The Canadian government has not tightened its security procedures sufficiently after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, leaving its border and airports vulnerable to terrorist infiltration, a key official said Tuesday.

Auditor General Sheila Fraser said the lack of coordination among security agencies and the weaknesses at airports and border crossings needed to be addressed.

Fraser also found that authorities lacked an overall plan to focus on the most important threats, guide spending and choose between conflicting priorities.

"These are basic things that should be working more effectively than they are now," Fraser told a news conference.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, the Canadian government allocated $7.7 billion over five years to bolster the fight against global terrorism.

Belgium

EU introduces terrorism czar

European officials introduced their new counterterrorism coordinator Tuesday to a packed press briefing, a sign that Europeans are viewing terrorism with new urgency after the March 11 train bombings in Madrid, Spain.

Gijs M. de Vries, a Dutch politician with an extensive resume, promised to improve cooperation among European countries. "Terror is not just the concern of an intelligence agency in one nation, so the information gained must be shared by all nations," he said.

His appointment, after years of talk about the need for such a position, may be the most tangible sign yet that European anti-terror efforts have taken on a new urgency.

"In the past, we've agreed on principles," Jesus Carmona, a spokesman for the European Council, the European Union's top legislative commission, said last week as the council approved new terrorism policies. "This time, we've agreed on concrete measures."

Spain

Moroccan terrorists focus of Madrid probe

A Spanish official confirmed for the first time Tuesday that a Moroccan group suspected of links to al-Qaida was the main focus of its investigation into the March 11 bombings of 10 commuter trains in Madrid.

Interior Minister Angel Acebes confirmed that the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group was the "priority" in the investigation. "Other options are not being ruled out, but primarily the investigation is going to go in this direction," Acebes said.

Investigators first blamed the attacks on Basque separatists. But the role of the Moroccan group, which was founded in the 1990s in Pakistan, became central to the investigation within days.

U.S. intelligence officials in Washington said there was evidence of growing cooperation among radical Islamic terrorist groups.

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