Jemaah Islamiyah-linked bomb maker targets 4 cities in southern Philippines

MANILA - Muslim militants linked to a Jemaah Islamiyah-trained bomber are targeting at least four cities in the southern island of Mindanao, possibly with car bombs, military intelligence sources said on Monday.

Security officials said Abdul Basit Usman, who trained under Jemaah Islamiyah leader Zulkifli bin Mir, is leading a special operations group from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) for possible attacks in the cities of Davao, Cagayan de Oro, Cotabato and Iligan.

Online news agency said Usman is out to avenge the death of two close aides as well as his wife's arrest when Philippine troops raided three rebel camps in Maguindanao province.

A report earlier by Reuters said the planned attacks by Usman, which has a US$1 million (S$1.25 million) bounty put up by the US State Department, are a retaliation for the arrest in Manila of Khair Mundos, the "spiritual leader" of the Jemaah Islamiyah-linked Abu Sayyaf group, which gained notoriety in the past decade by kidnapping foreigners.

Mundos, himself an expert bomb maker, is Usman's brother-in-law.

Security officials went on full alert last weekend after they received information with "high reliability of a possible terrorist threat to the pace and security" in Davao city.

President Benigno Aquino himself called Davao mayor Rodrigo Duterte to relay the possible threat.

Interior Secretary Mar Roxas flew to Davao to discuss with local officials measures to secure shopping malls, parks and transport terminals.

Roadblocks were set up around Davao, and patrols were stepped up in General Santos, Cagayan de Oro, Kidapawan and Koronadal.

The BIFF, a splinter group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which recently signed a peace deal with the Philippine government, has been coddling Usman and employing him as a bomb-making trainer for years, said Brigadier-General Edmund Pangilinan, commander of the Army's 6th Infantry Division.