IRAQI ENVOY LINKED TO GI DEATH IN MINDANAO

Manila, Feb. 11, 2003 (Malaya) - Foreign Secretary Blas Ople yesterday disclosed the alleged involvement by an Iraqi diplomat in the bombing in Malagutay, Zamboanga City last year that killed a member of the US Special Forces and three Filipinos.

Ople summoned Iraqi chargé d'affaires Samir Bolus to shed light on a report he received last week from the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency.

Ople said after his meeting with Bolus that the "very detailed" NICA report showed a "a link between the second secretary of the Iraqi Embassy (Husham Zed Hussain) and some members of the Abu Sayyaf who were linked to the bombing" on October 2 last year.

"This is so serious that I have to bring this matter to the attention of the Iraqi envoy," he said.

Bolus denied the allegations but he agreed to instruct his second secretary not to act inconsistent with his diplomatic status, Ople said.

Ople said he told Bolus he will hold the official responsible for activities inimical to Philippine-Iraq relations.

"I have put the Iraqi embassy on notice that these activities are being monitored by the intelligence community," he said.

Bolus assured Ople they are discouraging such activities, adding the Iraqi government is opposed to the Abu Sayyaf Group.

Ople said NICA traced cellular phone directories that established a link between Hussain and an identified Abu Sayyaf member.

"It appeared that immediately after the bombing there was a call to the Embassy," Ople said.

The call was reportedly made by an Abu Sayyaf member to Hussain right after the bombing in a karaoke bar outside a military camp in Malagutay.

Ople declined to discuss the report so as "to protect the assets and sources of information."

He said the matter has been discussed by the Cabinet oversight committee on internal security.

Ople said government cannot investigate Hussain owing to the diplomatic immunity enjoyed by envoys. He also would not say if the evidence against the diplomat would be enough to expel him.

"I prefer to give a warning. We're not supposed to be investigating foreign diplomats. We act based on our own information," he said.

But he added that if the envoy "exceeded the normal, permissible bounds of behavior then he should be subjected to disciplinary actions." Ople did not elaborate.

Ople said he also brought to Bolus' attention the visible attendance of Iraqi diplomats in rallies and demonstrations against the Philippine government.

"It's incompatible with their status as diplomats," Ople said.

Last January 30, the first secretary of the Iraqi Embassy, Abdul Karim Shwaikh, participated in a prayer rally denouncing a US war against Iraq. Shwaikh's participation was on Bolus' instruction, according to sources.

The defense and military establishments are digging into reports that some Iraqi nationals are funding anti-US groups conducting demonstrations against the impending war in Iraq.

The Iraqi Embassy said this was not true.

Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes said the two establishments have received intelligence reports but these have yet to be verified. (By MARILOU JUMILLA, with Victor Reyes)


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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