- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 12, 2003

CEBU, Philippines A senior Iraqi diplomat was in contact with Muslim terrorists in the southern Philippines hours after they killed a U.S. soldier and injured another in a bombing in October, according to Philippine officials and intelligence sources.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople said Iraqi diplomat Husham Hussein took a phone call from a member of the al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf, the terrorist group blamed for the bombing Oct. 2 outside a military base in the southern city of Zamboanga.
"It appeared that immediately after the bombing, there was a call to the embassy" by an Abu Sayyaf guerrilla, Mr. Ople told reporters in Manila, citing a "highly detailed" report from the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency.
"The call was to Hussein," Mr. Ople said. "So I have put the Iraqi Embassy on notice that these activities are monitored by the intelligence community."
Samir Bolus, second in command at the Iraqi Embassy in Manila, denied the assertion. But after a meeting with Mr. Ople on Monday, he agreed to instruct Mr. Hussein to "cease and desist from actions inconsistent with his diplomatic status."
Mr. Hussein, who continues with his duties as the Iraqi Embassy's second secretary, denied any link to Abu Sayyaf. "This is not true. I have nothing else to say," he told the Associated Press on Monday.
The U.S. Embassy in Manila called Mr. Ople's announcement "very disturbing but hardly surprising."
"The information has serious consequences for the security of both the United States and the Philippines, and we are confident that the government of the Philippines will take all appropriate actions in due course," the embassy was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, perhaps Washington's strongest Asian ally in the war on terrorism, ordered an investigation into the reports of links.
"Allegations of diplomatic involvement in terrorism constitute a grave matter anywhere … and should be dealt with with vigilance and immediacy," presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye said yesterday.
During the Monday meeting, Mr. Ople also warned the senior Iraqi diplomat about embassy staff joining anti-U.S. street protests in Manila.
Surveys indicate that the United States is viewed favorably by most Filipinos, but small anti-U.S. rallies are held almost weekly outside the U.S. Embassy. While the rallies usually are organized by left-leaning groups, military intelligence agents are checking reports that recent rallies have been funded by Iraqi diplomats.
"If these are true, these are very serious accusations," Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes said yesterday.
The U.S.-Iraqi standoff is especially delicate for the Philippines because hundreds of thousands of Filipinos employed in the Middle East, whose remittances are vital to the economy, would be displaced by war.
Muslims account for roughly 5 million of the predominantly Catholic country's 80 million people. Military intelligence sources have warned of likely "sympathy attacks" by Muslim rebels against U.S. interests if war breaks out.
U.S. soldiers have been training Philippine troops fighting Abu Sayyaf in the far southern stretches of the archipelago for more than a year.
The only terrorist attack in the Philippines with established links to Iraq occurred during the 1991 Persian Gulf war, when two Iraqi agents tried to blow up the Thomas Jefferson Library in the Manila suburb of Makati. The bomb exploded prematurely, killing one Iraqi and critically wounding the other.

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