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Philippines Steps Up Port Security


The Philippines has stepped up security at all sea and air ports amid fresh fears of terrorist attacks ahead of national elections in May.

National Security Advisor Norberto Gonzales is warning of new attacks by Muslim militants linked to the regional Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist group. In a briefing for reporters, he says the country needs far more vigilance against terrorism.

"We really have to face it squarely, the threat of terrorism," he said. "You see, it's not a slogan anymore. You see there is persistent information leading to the fact that our country is the training ground of terrorists. This is very, very serious."

The newly-appointed security chief is referring to allegations that a Philippine Muslim separatist group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front or MILF, has been training Islamic militants.

Fearing that these militants are filling the ranks of regional terror organizations such as Jamaah Islamiyah, the group behind the deadly Bali bombings in 2002, the Philippines is stepping up cooperation with its mostly Muslim neighbors Malaysia and Indonesia.

Mr. Gonzales says a Philippine police team will travel to Malaysia to interrogate Indonesian militants in Malaysian custody. Suspected members of the MILF allegedly trained the Indonesians.

Mr. Gonzales says Manila also has asked Jakarta to allow its police to question militants detained in Indonesia.

The MILF, which has fought for a separate state for decades, has repeatedly denied links with any terrorist groups.

Mr. Gonzales says he believes the MILF has severed extremist ties, but warns that new breakaway factions may be connected to Jemaah Islamiyah.

Mr. Gonzales says he is also looking into the activities of Middle Eastern missionaries in the southern island of Mindanao who could be funding Islamic extremism.

Most Filipinos are Catholic, but about six million are Muslims concentrated in the southern islands. For several generations, the area's poverty, lack of schools and basic infrastructure have provided a fertile recruiting ground for Muslim separatist movements.

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