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Philippines tightens net

Philippines police
Philippines police conduct checks in traffic  

By staff and wires

MANILA, Philippines -- The hunt for people with connections to Tuesday's U.S. terrorist attacks has sparked several incidents in the Philippines.

Last week local police freed three Middle Eastern men despite concerns that they had been videotaping the U.S. embassy.

The men, all carrying Omani passports with the family name Al-Shehhi, were questioned, but allowed to go because they had committed no crime. They left the Philippines the next day.

The hotel rooms where they had been staying, across the street from the embassy, were searched Wednesday, a day after the name of Marwan Alshehhi emerged as a suspect in the fatal attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Philippine presidential spokesman Rigoberto Tiglao said a U.S. technician who participated in the search of the Bayview Hotel ran two tests for the presence of explosives: one was positive for TNT chemicals; the other was negative, The Associated Press reported.

Philippine immigration officials also detained a Saudi Airlines pilot for questioning and turned back nine Malaysian men on suspicion they could have undergone terrorist training.

The U.S. Embassy issued a statement saying the three Omani men were engaged in "suspicious activity" on September 7 and 8, with local police questioning them the second day after embassy security pointed them out.

Police checked the men's videotapes, which showed tourist attractions, then let them go.

The three men, ages 26 to 29, took a flight to Bangkok, Thailand, on September 9, even though they had booked their rooms for another day. Tiglao said their early departure led to speculation "they might have had ideas of conducting a bombing."

The detained Saudi Airlines pilot, Mohammad Omar Al-Bokhari, was a last-minute substitution in the crew for flight SV862 from Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, to Manila on Thursday, Immigration Commissioner Andrea Domingo said.

Philippine officials said they believed he might be the brother of a man who has been questioned about the U.S. attacks, Saudi flight engineer Adnan Bukhari, 41, a student at Flightsafety International in Florida, which trains commercial jet crews.

An apparent relative, Ameer Bukhari, was a student pilot there when he was killed in a mid-air collision exactly a year before Tuesday's attack, and Philippine officials said they believed Al-Bokhari attended the same school.

Al-Bokhari denied he was related to Adnan Bukhari.

"I have no brother over there," he insisted as he was led out of the first session of questioning.

He had been scheduled to fly to Riyadh on Friday afternoon, but the flight left without him as he was questioned and fingerprinted at Manila's international airport, then taken to national police headquarters for further questioning.

The nine Malaysian men were turned back after flying to Cebu from Kuala Lumpur.

Casimiro Madarang, chief of the immigration bureau at Cebu airport, said all had recently been in Pakistan an average of five months, which he considered to be enough time for terrorism training, so they were barred as potential security threats.

A U.S. Congressional Research Service report dated Monday, the day before the latest terrorist attacks, identified the Philippines as one of 34 countries where followers of exiled Saudi millionaire Osama bin Laden have cells. Bin Laden has emerged as a prime suspect in Tuesday's attacks.

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