||Thursday, Sept. 25, 2003 - 7:16 p.m.
Elite NPA assassins target George Bush?
By Karl B. Kaufman, Reporter and Anthony Vargas, Correspondent
THE communist New People’s Army has deployed at least 50 of its “elite, highly trained” troops in Metro Manila to carry out an assassination assignment on US President George W. Bush, who is scheduled to visit the country on October 18, military sources said.
Requesting anonymity, the source said the deployment began as early as August “to establish an intelligence network” that would relay information and details to the NPA chain of command about Bush’s eight-hour visit.
“Their first assignment is to link up with front organizations [of the NPA] and, from there, share intelligence information so that an effective assassination plan would be established,” the source said, declining to identify the front organizations.
The guerrillas tasked to carry out the assassination, the source said, are all marksmen who have undergone extensive training in Southern Luzon for that purpose.
Individuals supportive of the NPA cause in Metro Manila will provide refuge to the assassins during their stay before October 18, the source added without elaborating.
The Armed Forces public information chief, Lt. Col. Daniel Lucero, said, however, that the information has yet to be verified by the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
“I have talked with [Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Pedro] Cabuay, who said he received no such report. But we are checking on all our units and this is part of the military’s preparation for Bush’s visit,” he said.
Lucero said the reports the military has so far been receiving concern lightning rallies to be staged by leftist, anti-US organizations. “But we are prepared for the worst-case scenario.”
He doubts the capability of the NPA to carry out such a high-profile assassination attempt. The military claims to have diminished the NPA’s strength and influence through continuous operations.
“With the kind of preparations we are doing, we can assure you that President Bush will be safe on his visit here,” Lucero added.
Latest attacks by the NPA, however, have killed at least 40 soldiers in Compostela Valley, Eastern Samar, Mountain Province and Albay.
“There are some lapses [by our field units] but all in all we have downgraded the NPA’s capability to launch terrorist activities nationwide,” said the Philippine Army chief, Lt. Gen. Gregorio Camiling Jr.
Bush’s visit will be safe, President Arroyo assured on Monday. “Maximum security measures have been taken for the visit,” the President said in her speech at Monday’s flag-raising ceremony at Camp Crame.
She said Philippine and US authorities are jointly handling the security preparation for Bush’s arrival.
“We will leave no stone unturned to ensure that his stay would be safe, fruitful and rewarding,” the President said.
The government is taking proactive steps in strengthening intelligence gathering and surveillance on perceived threats to Bush’s arrival.
Director General Hermogenes Ebdane Jr., chief of the Philippine National Police, denied that the arrival of some 1,500 US Marines was part of Bush’s security.
“It’s the responsibility of the host country to ensure the safety of visiting foreign dignitaries,” Ebdane told reporters.
In the same breath, PNP officials denied they were being pressured to speed up the recapture of the Indonesian bomber Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi.
“We are not being pressured on this,” Chief Supt. Arturo Lomibao, PNP director for intelligence and deputy chief of Task Force al-Ghozi, told reporters.
But he admitted that the PNP is receiving some help from its foreign counterparts in the two-month manhunt for the terrorist, who is a member of the Jemaah Islamiah.
“It’s more of coordination and information sharing as our neighboring countries acknowledged that the threat of terrorism is global.”
Authorities from the US have started their security inspection of Malacañang in preparation for Bush’s visit.
Some 40 members of the White House staff and US Secret Service went to Malacañang on Monday and inspected the Palace.
They also visited the House of Representatives and inspected the compound where Bush will address the joint session of Congress.
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The White House personnel, escorted by some staffers from Malacañang, the US Embassy in Manila and the Department of Foreign Affairs, met with House Secretary-General Roberto Nazareno.
“They want to assess the security in going to the Batasan as well as within the compound itself,” Nazareno said.
-- With Ma. Theresa Torres and Maricel V. Cruz, Reporters
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~Did You Miss These?~
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