Philippine police raid Islamic centre before Catholic event

AFP , Sunday 8 Jan 2017

Philippine police raided an Islamic centre in Manila and briefly detained scores of people as part of heightened security before a major Catholic festival, a spokeswoman said Sunday.

Two men were arrested for illegal drugs during the raid on the Islamic Center in the heart of Manila on Saturday, as authorities warned of possible attacks by Islamic militants when the Feast of the Black Nazarene reaches its peak on Monday.

"This is part of security preparations for the Feast of the Black Nazarene," Chief Inspector Marissa Bruno, spokeswoman for the Manila police, told AFP.

She said 82 other people at the centre had been taken to a police station but were released soon afterwards when it was found they had no warrants outstanding.

Bruno denied that police had targeted the Islamic Center, which includes a mosque, saying that other parts of the city had also been subjected to police operations.

Authorities have been on alert for possible attacks by Islamic militants to disrupt the Black Nazarene event, which is expected to attract millions of Filipinos.

The annual festival sees huge numbers of barefoot devotees crowding to touch a life-size and dark-skinned statue of Jesus that is reputed to have healing powers.

Two people were killed and hundreds injured during the crush of humanity at last year's event.

Security forces have said there is no report of a "direct threat" to the festival this year but they are wary that Muslim extremists may seek revenge for the killing of a pro-Islamic State militant leader last week.

Mohammad Jaafar Maguid, alias "Tokboy", founder and leader of the Ansarul Khilafa Philippines (AKP), was killed by security forces on Thursday.

His group is known to be a supporter of the IS group and has been blamed for various bombings and attacks.

Investigators are still looking into whether the AKP was involved in a bombing in the southern city of Davao in September which killed 15 people gathered in a popular park.

Local Muslim extremists have previously launched attacks on Christian targets, playing on longstanding tensions between the country's Christian majority and the Muslim minority.

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