Manila, Feb. 13, 2003 (Malaya) - The Philippines has expelled an Iraqi diplomat for reported links with the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group.

The announcement came after the United States expressed grave concern over the disclosure made last Monday by Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas F. Ople about an intelligence report showing a link between Husham Hussain, the embassy's second secretary, and the Abu Sayyaf which was tagged responsible for the bombing of a karaoke bar in Malagutay, Zamboanga City in October last year.

The blast killed a member of the US Special Forces and three Filipinos. Another American serviceman was wounded.

Sources said President Bush called President Arroyo Tuesday night to inquire on the status of Hussain.

Ople also said Hussain had also been meeting with front organizations of the National Democratic Front.

Ople earlier said Hussain's expulsion came after the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency traced cellular phone calls from Abu Sayyaf members to the diplomat immediately after the Zamboanga bombing. That incident, which killed one American soldiers, came 10 days before blasts on the Indonesian island of Bali killed more than 190 tourists and residents.

He did not elaborate on why the Philippines was taking action more than four months after the bomb blast on October 2.

Hussain is the second Iraqi diplomat in 12 years to be ejected by the Philippines.

In 1991, the Philippines ordered the Iraqi embassy's first secretary to leave over alleged links to two Iraqi nationals accused of setting off a bomb at the Thomas Jefferson Center library run by the US Embassy.

One of the two Iraqis was killed in the blast, which came five months after Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990 and triggered the Gulf War.

The Iraqi embassy denied allegations that Hussain was involved with members of Abu Sayyaf which the United States has listed as a "terrorist organization."

US Ambassador Francis Ricciardone, said: "We look on that (Hussain's alleged links with the Abu Sayyaf) with very grave concern. The information that was revealed by Secretary Ople suggests a very serious threat to Filipinos and to Americans."

Early yesterday, Ople said the Philippines was giving the Iraqi government "a window of a few days" to take action against Hussain before he decided on the envoy's fate.

But at around 6 p.m., Ople summoned Iraqi embassy charge d'affaires Samir Bolus and informed him that Hussain should leave within 48 hours because Hussain "ceased to enjoy the rights and privileges of a diplomat."

"Mr. Bolus accepted the decision of the Philippine government and committed to ... have Mr. Hussain leave within 48 hours. He did not question our decision nor did he ask for the reason or basis of our decision. I appreciated his candor and cooperation. Under international and diplomatic law, a host state need not give any reason for withdrawing the accreditation of a diplomat and in asking him to leave," Ople said.

Ople said while diplomatic retaliation is fairly common, "I would like to express the hope that there will not be a similar action taken against our personnel in our embassy in Baghdad."

There are fears that Philippine Embassy officials in Baghdad might also be expelled.

Ople asked Bolus to ask the Iraqi foreign ministry to delay the assignment of Ghazi Faisal Hussein, the new Iraqi ambassador, who was supposed to arrive tomorrow.

"I want to welcome him in a more auspicious time," Ople said.

Rep. Apolinario Lozada said the House committee on foreign relations which he heads will summon officials of the Iraqi embassy to a hearing on the NICA report next week.

Also to be invited is national security adviser Roilo Golez who Lozada said committed a "grave political and diplomatic blunder" when he came out with the false announcement that Philippine Embassy in Baghdad would be closed this week. Golez' statement was belied by the Palace and the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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