Philippines arrests three over 'anti-China' firebomb plan

Members of a group who call themselves 'USAFE', wait for inquest proceedings at the Department of Justice in Manila, Philippines on Tuesday, 2 September 2014 Officials said the men were an anti-China group angry at an ongoing territorial dispute

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Philippine police have arrested three men suspected of planning "anti-China" firebomb attacks at several locations in Manila, officials say.

The men planned to set off homemade devices at targets including the airport, Chinese embassy and a Chinese-owned shopping mall, officials said.

The three men were arrested on Monday at a car park at the airport.

They were angry at the government's "soft stance" towards a territorial row with Beijing, an official said.

"They want this administration to espouse a tougher stance in its dispute with China," Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said, referring to ongoing tensions over the South China Sea.

Ms De Lima said the men were part of a "misguided group" that claimed to be "defenders of the Filipino people". She said more people were believed to be involved in the group's activities.

Evidence of homemade incendiary devices is presented at the NBI headquarters in Manila, Philippines on Tuesday, 2 September 2014 The Philippines military played down the incident, describing the bombs as "firecrackers"
Philippine Marines and a local television reporter (L) gesture towards a Chinese Coast Guard vessel in the South China Sea March 29, China's claims in the South China Sea overlap those of several South East Asian nations

Police found four home-made devices in the men's van.

The Philippines army, however, played down the incident, describing the men as "pranksters".

"This was just comic relief to get attention. It was not a terrorist attack," Military Chief General Gregorio Pio Catapang told journalists, adding the devices were "just firecrackers".

China and the Philippines have overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea, including the Scarborough Shoal - the scene of a lengthy stand-off in 2012.

Manila has taken the issue to the UN court in The Hague.

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