Philippine President Gloria Arroyo says Manila's fight against terrorism will not end with the recent capture of two bombing suspects with alleged ties to the radical Muslim group, the Abu Sayyaf.
Philippine police and military officials presented the two suspects, Abdulbasit Usman and Moamar Timbao Esmael, to President Arroyo Wednesday at the presidential palace. The pair was arrested earlier this week in connection with an April bombing, which killed 15 and injured nearly a hundred people in the southern Philippines.
While Ms. Arroyo praises the arrests, she warned that more must be done track down the terrorists still at large. Speaking before Congress two days ago, the Philippine leader emphasized that the country's future depends on how well Manila can combat terrorism on its soil.
"We cannot afford to lose. Even a stalemate will be a defeat, for what is at stake is our country as a viable proposition in the world economy," Ms. Arroyo said.
Mr. Usman and Mr. Esmael are believed to be associates of Noor Mohammad Umog an Abu Sayyaf leader arrested in May on suspicion of masterminding the bombing. The United States has linked the Abu Sayyaf to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network and has offered a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the capture and conviction of senior Abu Sayyaf commanders.
About 1,000 U.S. soldiers have been in the southern Philippines for the past six months, helping train Philippine troops to hunt down the Abu Sayyaf. For decades, the group which claims to be fighting for a separate Islamic state, has waged a militant campaign often involving violent, kidnapping-for-ransom schemes.
In Washington Tuesday, the U.S. Justice Department announced that a federal grand jury has indicted five Abu Sayyaf leaders, who allegedly organized the May 2001 kidnapping of three Americans and 17 others in the Philippines. One American was beheaded. Another was killed during a shootout with the Philippine military and the third was rescued.
None of the five Abu Sayyaf leaders have been captured. If they are, they could be taken to the United States to stand trial.
But Philippine officials said, regardless of the indictment in the United States, Manila reserves the right to prosecute the Abu Sayyaf leaders first.
The U.S. Embassy in Manila said Washington has no made demand for Philippine authorities to hand the leaders over and supports President Arroyo's efforts to capture and prosecute them.