- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 13, 2003

MANILA The Philippine government yesterday told an Iraqi diplomat purportedly linked to the Muslim extremist Abu Sayyaf group to leave the country within 48 hours.
The decision to expel Iraqi Second Secretary Husham Hussein came after the government announced Monday it had an intelligence report indicating he received a call from an Abu Sayyaf member shortly after a bombing that killed three persons. Victims of the bombing last year in the southern city of Zamboanga included an American Green Beret.
The Iraqi Embassy denied Mr. Hussein or any other embassy officer was involved with rebel groups, including the Abu Sayyaf, which is on a U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations.
The Abu Sayyaf has been loosely linked to the al Qaeda terror network, blamed for the September 11 attacks, and American soldiers trained Philippine troops last year on how to better fight Abu Sayyaf guerrillas on Basilan island, near Zamboanga.
The Bush administration, in its effort to convince the world of the need for military action against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, recently pointed out what it says are links between Iraq and al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
In a telephone conversation Tuesday night with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, President Bush expressed concern "for the direct terrorist link" to the Iraqi Embassy, presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye said.
The U.S. Embassy also expressed concern Tuesday, saying the Philippine revelations were "very disturbing but hardly surprising."
Yesterday, the White House called the affair a "worrisome sign" that Baghdad backs extremist violence outside the Middle East.
"Iraq has a long-known, well-known history of supporting terrorism in the Middle East, so it should not surprise people if Iraq has its fingers in terrorism in other places," spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
The only terrorist incident during the 1991 Persian Gulf war that was conclusively traced to Iraq took place in the Philippines.
Shortly after the outbreak of the war, Manila expelled Iraqi Charge d'Affaires Muwafak al-Ani after an Iraqi man was killed and another wounded in the premature detonation of a bomb believed intended for a U.S. cultural center in a Manila suburb.
The planned bombing appeared to be an initial attempt by Iraq to carry out a threat of global terrorism in response to the U.S.-led assault to force its military out of Kuwait.
Philippine Foreign Secretary Blas Ople said he confronted Iraqi Charge d'Affaires Samir Bolus on Monday with the recent intelligence report.
He conveyed the decision about Mr. Hussein's expulsion to Mr. Bolus yesterday. Mr. Ople told reporters Mr. Bolus expressed sadness but accepted the expulsion, and that he did not "ask for the reason or basis of our decision."
Mr. Ople said he expected retaliation from Baghdad. Most of the Philippine Embassy staff in Iraq already have left Baghdad in anticipation of U.S. military action over Saddam's refusal to cooperate with United Nation weapons inspectors.

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