Islamic Militant Training Disrupted In The Philippines
U.S.-backed offensives have disrupted terrorism training by the Jemaah Islamiyah group, prompting the al-Qaeda affiliate to constantly change camps and delaying the arrival of a batch of Indonesian recruits, a Philippine government report said.
That training began in 1998, mostly in the southern strongholds of the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front, according to the report seen Tuesday by The Associated Press. Last year, though, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front began pressuring the foreign trainers to move away, apparently to avoid sporadic government anti-terrorist offensives. "The holding of training courses by the JI at this time, even in far-flung or swampy areas, would almost be improbable owing to government offensive threat," the report said. Western nations have been concerned about the training in the Mindanao region, which helped buffer the loss of terrorist camps in Afghanistan. The U.S. military has been providing anti-terrorist training and weapons to Philippine troops. It also has conducted covert surveillance missions across Mindanao, military officials say. If the military offensives ease, the terrorist training could resume, the report said, citing the presence of about 25 Indonesian militants in the south. Jemaah Islamiyah has been blamed for deadly bombings across Southeast Asia, including the 2002 Bali nightclub attacks that killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists. The MILF, currently holding peace talks with the Philippine government, repeatedly has denied military reports linking it to the Indonesian-based group. The MILF's late founder, Hashim Salamat, forged an agreement in the mid-1990s with Indonesian friends, leading Jemaah Islamiyah to set up a training camp in Mindanao, principally for new Indonesian recruits, the report said. "They were allowed to set up training camps under MILF protection, replicating the Afghan camp system ... transferring deadly skills to a new generation of operatives," the report said. Jemaah Islamiyah militants designed an 18-month "cadetship training program" for 17-18 Indonesian recruits at a time, the report said. The first batch attended a camp called Hudeibah starting in mid-1998 and ending in February 2000, the report said. Abu Bakar Bashir, the alleged spiritual head of the Jemaah Islamiyah who has been jailed for his role in the Bali bombings, attended the graduation ceremony, the report said. Riduan Isamuddin, also known as Hambali, and fellow militant Ali Ghufron, known as Mukhlas, were among the Indonesian instructors, the report said. Both are in custody and face charges for deadly terror attacks. The next batch of Indonesian recruits arrived in 2000, but their training was disrupted by a major military offensive on the MILF's main camp, Abubakar, forcing them to transfer to the Muaskar Jabal Quba camp on Mt. Kararao. A third group arrived in August 2002, completing its training in February 2003, the report said. A fourth group had not arrived because of military assaults, the report said, citing information from arrested Indonesian militants. Members of the extremist Abu Sayyaf group and the MILF, as well as recruits from Malaysia and Singapore, also underwent training, but it was disrupted by assaults, it said. An arrested Jemaah Islamiyah trainer, known as Rohmat, said three Indonesian militants trained about 60 Abu Sayyaf rebels on southern Jolo island in March 2003 "but they were constantly on the run to avoid government forces," the report said. Half of the rebels and the Indonesians shifted the training site to nearby Zamboanga del Norte province. In November, the MILF asked Abu Sayyaf trainees and their Indonesian instructors to seek a new training site amid intensifying offensives, the report said. The MILF has been under pressure to prove it does not coddle terrorists, with military officials saying some of its commanders maintain links with Jemaah Islamiyah and the Abu Sayyaf.