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Philippines guards southern 'back door'

By Rufi Vigilar

MANILA, Philippines -- The Philippine military is guarding the country's southern "back door" through which suspected international terrorist financier Osama bin Laden once entered.

The Armed Forces Southern Command said that tighter security has been ordered at all air and sea ports under its jurisdiction, in response to Tuesday's devastating terrorist attacks in the United States believed to be perpetrated by bin Laden.

Armed Forces spokesman General Edilberto Adan told CNN that all troops have been put on "heightened alert" and that "all leaves by personnel have been canceled."

Adan also said that civilians are being urged "to report any unusual movements and suspicious looking characters" to the authorities.

Southern Command deputy commander Colonel Frank Gudani cited intelligence reports that would show members of the Islamic militant group Abu Sayyaf had been trained abroad and funded "under the umbrella of Bin Laden."

Hostage takers

Last year, the Abu Sayyaf gained international notoriety when it held captive some 40 Western and Asian captives over a four-month period in the guerrilla stronghold province of Sulu, more than 900km (560 miles) south of Manila.

The Abu Sayyaf struck again in western Palawan province May this year, seizing more captives in two other incidents in Basilan, as they evaded increased military offensives against them.

The militant group has beheaded at least 10 hostages this year and still holds some 20 captive.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has ordered security officials to remain on "heightened alert" and closely guard the country's vital installations, as well as "all US facilities in the Philippines."

"We are sparing no effort in protecting all U.S. nationals within our jurisdiction," Arroyo said.

Japan trip

She ordered Philippine flags lowered to half-mast on Wednesday, to share in America's grief.

But Arroyo has decided to push through with a scheduled trip to Tokyo to urge Japanese officials to maintain the amount of financial aid to the Philippines.

Japan, however, may itself face a deeper economic crisis, since it has looked to the US economy to lead it out of its financial troubles.

The US economic slowdown and the cost of restoration in the wake of Tuesday's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington are expected to rebound on world markets.

Exports from Japan and the Philippines rely heavily on the US market.

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