Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Philippine Rebels Linking Up With Foreign Jihadists

A lethal mix of militant groups is emerging in the southern Philippines, a senior police intelligence official said, warning of attacks as foreign and local jihadists share resources, talents and capabilities.
The intelligence official, who declined to be identified, said foreign Islamic militants, mostly Indonesians, were building alliances with several homegrown Moslem rebels to survive government offensives on the southern island of Mindanao. Since July, Philippine troops backed by U.S. aerial surveillance vehicles have been combing coastal and mountain villages in Maguindanao province for about 30 rebels from the al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group, who are thought to be operating with a handful of Indonesian militants. "These militants are now crossing organisational lines to exchange and share manpower, expertise and resources," the intelligence official told reporters. "If governments in the region are cooperating to eliminate these threats, we are now seeing that terrorists are also sharing their 'best practices' to fight back". A senior U.S. diplomat in Manila drew an angry reaction from government leaders earlier this year when he said Mindanao risked turning into "an Afghanistan situation". The Philippine official said there were intelligence reports that Rajah Solaiman Revolutionary Movement, a group of radical Moslem converts, had merged with the Abu Sayyaf group led by Khaddafy Janjalani. This, he said, had increased the threat of attacks in Manila because most of the converts were based around the capital. Janjalani, long the subject of manhunt operations on Mindanao, is also thought to have developed close links with Indonesian militants belonging to different jihadist groups, including Jemaah Islamiah (JI). A classified security report shown to Reuters said JI instructors had taught about 60 of Janjalani's followers how to handle crude bombs fashioned out of unexploded mortar rounds. JI has been blamed for several of the deadliest attacks in southeast Asia, including the October 2002 Bali bombing that nearly killed 200 people, mostly Australian tourists. Philippine officials said foreign militants were forced to seek out other Moslem groups in Mindanao because the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country's largest Moslem rebel group, which is in talks with the government, started pushing them to leave. But they said rogue MILF elements continued to protect the foreign militants, allowing them to hide in a marshy area in Maguindanao province. "We always believed the leadership of MILF is determined to cut its ties with these militants," said Rodolfo Garcia, a member of the government's peace panel negotiating with the The government has said it will resume informal talks with the MILF within a month in Malaysia on a proposed ancestral homeland for Muslims in Mindanao to help end the conflict that has killed more than 120,000 people since the late 1960s.