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U.S. urges caution in Philippines

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Police stand guard as a tourist relaxes on Kuta beach in Bali, Indonesia. Tourists are becoming harder to spot as nations warn their citizens not to travel there.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The State Department Saturday urged Americans in the Philippines to maintain a high level of security awareness and said the terrorist threat in the archipelago was high.

"In view of a number of recent security-related incidents and the possibility of future terrorism, kidnappings, and other violence or criminal activity, Americans traveling to or residing in the Philippines are urged to exercise great caution and maintain a heightened security awareness," a government statement said.

The statement strengthens one issued October 23 and includes information on the potential for terrorist bombings during the holidays and the threat posed by Jemaah Islamiya and other terrorist groups. It expires January 10.

Noting last month's terrorist bombings in Bali, Indonesia, the statement said the State Department "is concerned that similar attacks may occur in other Southeast Asian nations, including the Philippines."

It added, "Extremist groups present in Southeast Asia have demonstrated transnational capabilities to carry out attacks against locations where Westerners congregate. Terrorist groups do not distinguish between official and civilian targets."

Terrorist groups may be planning bombing attacks in the Philippines "from now through the New Year holiday period," it said.

"The U.S. Embassy urges all Americans to avoid crowds and crowded places, including nightclubs and bars, particularly through the New Year holiday and to exercise special caution in public places, such as cemeteries and shopping malls, or when using public transportation."

Philippine authorities have beefed up security measures, it said.

The area of Manila has been beset by a number of bomb-related incidents recently. An explosion on a bus October 18 killed three people and wounded many others.

Earlier that day, a grenade detonated in the Makati commercial area, and an unexploded grenade was found nearby.

On October 16, a bomb was discovered inside a passenger bus on the route from Manila to Laguna Province.

On October 23, U.S. authorities designated the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) organization a "Foreign Terrorist Organization." The government described JI as an extremist group with cells operating throughout Southeast Asia.

Members of the group recently arrested in the region have revealed links with al Qaeda, other regional terrorist groups, and previous terrorist attacks in the region, the statement added.

The group is suspected of having carried out last month's horrific bombing on the Indonesian resort island Bali in which near 200 people -- mostly Australians -- were killed. The group's purported leader, Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, has been arrested in Indonesia in connection with a series of deadly bombings there. He denies any role in the bombings.

The terrorist New People's Army (NPA), the military arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines, operates throughout the Philippines and has recently issued threats against U.S. citizens and interests in the Philippines, the statement said.

Early this year, an American tourist was shot and killed by an unidentified gunman on the slopes of Mount Pinatubo in Pampanga Province, an area known for NPA activity.

The terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group has recently issued public threats against U.S. citizens and interests in the Philippines. The ASG has taken hostage a number of Filipinos, Americans and foreign tourists since April 2000.

Several were freed after ransoms were paid, some escaped or were rescued by military action, and some were killed.

This year, during a rescue operation, one American hostage was killed and another injured after spending more than a year in captivity.

U.S. citizens are urged to avoid travel to the central, southern and western areas of Mindanao, including Zamboanga City and General Santos City, due to kidnappings, bombings, and other violence and criminal activity in the areas.

U.S. citizens should also avoid travel to the islands of Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, and Jolo, located in the extreme southwest of the Philippines.

Last month, at least 20 people were killed, including an American soldier, and more than 100 persons were wounded in bombing attacks in Zamboanga City, Zamboanga Province, and in Kidapawan, Cotabato Province.

The U.S. government has restricted travel by official personnel to areas deemed dangerous and has withdrawn resident official Americans and contractors.



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