(PHILLIPINES STAR) The southern Philippines has been tagged as the nerve center of regional terrorism, an Australian newspaper, quoting Australian intelligence documents, reported yesterday.
The Australian said the Southeast Asian-based regional terror group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) has had ties with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Abu Sayyaf for almost 20 years.
The documents were supposedly a compilation of interviews with a senior JI defector and other sources which confirmed suspicions on the existence of two training camps of the MILF located in the dense jungles of Mindanao for JI recruits.
Most of the information were culled from the supposed confession of Mohammed Nassir bin Abbas, the former leader of the main camp being used to train JI members.
The documents show the alliance began in 1985 in Pakistan during a meeting with Indonesian cleric Abdullah Sungkar and MILF chairman Hashim Salamat, who died last year.
JI leader Riduan Isamuddin, also known as Hambali, was said to have consolidated the links among the three groups.
The documents allegedly contained information on the MILF members who were teaching gunsmith skills to JI trainees.
Around seven JI members were reportedly sent to Mindanao in 2000 to learn how to make handguns, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, and pen guns.
The newspaper report noted Nassir’s claims that JI leader Zulkifli bin Mohamed Jaffar established a link with Abu Sayyaf chieftain Khaddafi Janjalani.
The bandit group leader was said to have given Zulkifli P100,000 to bomb the airport in Cotabato City in 2003.
Three subsequent bombings in the region were also attributed to Zulkifli even as the Philippine security officials initially blamed the MILF over the incidents.
Ranking MILF leaders were subsequently spared from prosecution after the Philippine government, in an effort to win back the MILF to the peace negotiations, decided to drop the criminal charges against them.
Philippine security officials claimed the JI training camps in Mindanao have ceased to exist as early as four years ago when the government started negotiations with the MILF.
According to Nassir, around 40 JI members were in Mindanao last February, half of whom trained at Camp Jabal Quba, the training camp he used to command.
Nassir claimed to have trained 540 militants a year until early 1998.
A white paper released by the Australian government last July said that the Abu Sayyaf was forging ties with the MILF and that it was evolving into an international terror organization.
In the report of Rohan Gunaratna of Singapore’s Institute and Defense Studies, it said that as long as the training camps in Mindanao exist, the JI will continue to exist.
Singapore security officials said the JI stepped up its militant orientation with increased number of reconnaissance and surveys of potential targets.
The change in orientation was initiated by Hambali who reportedly wanted the JI to convert all its “missionary” cells into operations cells.
Singapore officials said the JI planned to send as many men as possible for training abroad, particularly in Mindanao in southern Philippines.
Over the past few days, Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer announced their plans to take preemptive strikes against suspected terror camps across the Southeast Asian region, including those in the Philippines.
Australian officials have explained at great length that any action for preemptive strikes will have to be coordinated with the government concerned.