Friday, January 28, 2011

ASG Links with Al Qaeda and JI

By Rommel C. Banlaoi

The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG)  continues to wreak terrorist havocs because of its superb ability to establish strong linkages with foreign and local terrorist groups operating in the Philippines. These groups are the Al-Qaeda, JI, the MNLF, the MILF and the RSM. 

The ASG also has a creative and sophisticated means to solicit local support, which undoubtedly contribute to its resilience as a terrorist organization.  According to Philippine intelligence reports, the ASG also drew its support from the extremist element in Iran (Hezbollah), Pakistan (Jamaat-Islami and Hizbul-Mujahideen), Afghanistan (Hizb-Islami) Egypt (Al Gamaa-Al-Islamiya), Algeria (Islamic Liberation Front) and Libya (International Harakatul Al-Islamia).    But this blog will focus only on ASG links with Al-Qaeda, JI, the MNLF, the MILF and the RSM. 

ASG Linkages with Al-Qaeda.

The ASG reportedly established link with Al Qaeda through Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, the brother-in-law of Osama bin Laden.  Though several Islamic charities, Khalifa penetrated the Philippines to plant the seed of Al-Qaedaism in the Philippines.  The IIRO was Khalifa’s most important cover in the Philippines.  Officially registered at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on 20 October 1991, the IIRO  established a central office in Makati City and provincial branches in Mindanao. 

The IIRO was the main financial conduit of Al-Qaeda in the Philippines.  The IIRO constructed several mosques and Islamic schools in Mindanao, particularly in areas controlled by the ASG.  Khalifa even married a Filipina, Alice Yabo, to deepen his personal network in the country. Yabo’s brother, Abu Omar, had close ties with the MILF. This also cemented ties between Al-Qaeda and the MILF.

But it was Ramzi Yousef who was said to have deepened the ASG’s ties with Al Qaeda.  The ASG links with Al Qaeda relationship was also facilitated by the personal friendship between Janjalani and Bin Laden.  Both stayed in Peshawar, Pakistan in the 1980s.  Though Jason Burke argued that Bin Laden did not directly provide funding support for Janjalani during the mid-80s,[1]  what is clear is that the ASG played a supporting role in Yousef’s Bojinka Plot that was foiled in 1995.[2] The Bojinka plots aimed to bomb eleven U.S. jetliners and assassinate Pope John Paul II, who visited Manila in 1995.[3] 

The ASG  fully established closer link with the Al Qaeda in the 1990s.[4]     The ASG founder, Ustadz Abdurajak Janjalani,  befriended Bin Laden while in Peshawar, Pakistan.    Janjalani also became a very close friend of Ramzi Yousef.   It was Yousef who propagated the seeds of Al-Qaedaism in the Philippines. 

Based on various police reports,   Yousef formed a terrorist cell in the Philippines in 1994 using some transnational Islamic non-governmental organizations while planning the Bojinka Plot with Khalifa (See Figure 10).[5] Among the identified members of Yousef cell in the Philippines were the following:

·         Wali Khan Amin Shah.  A “Pakistani-Afghan” national reported to be a very close associate of Yousef.   As stated earlier, Wali Khan had extensive travels to the Philippines, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Thailand using 7 passports with different names but bearing the same picture of him.  He was believed to have been the over-all financial manager of Yousef cell.  While in the Philippines, he was reported to have used an automated teller machine card using the name of Carol Santiago, reported to be Wali Khan’s girlfriend.  He also reported to have participated in the plot against Pope John Paul II.
·         Abdul Hakim Ali Hasmid Murad.  A Pakistani national reported to have arrived in the Philippines between November 1990 to February 1991.  In December 1994, he came again to the Philippines to participate in the Bojinka plots aimed to assassinate the Pope.  He was trained in bomb making and flying commercial plane. He was arrested in 1995 having been convicted for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
·         Abu Omar.  A Filipino national who became the brother-in-law of Khalifa.  Omar reportedly used charitable organization as a front organization to channel money and to fund the terrorist activities of the local Muslim militants.
·         Munir Ibrahim.  Reported to be a wealthy Saudi Arabian from Jeddah who came to the Philippines to support terrorist activities in the country.
·         Salem Ali/Sheik Mohammad.  Claimed to be a plywood exporter who befriended Rose Mosquera, a bargirl in Quezon City, who opened a bank account for him at the Far East Bank at the SM Megamall.  Salem Ali was said to have also supported terrorist activities in the Philippines.
·         Mohammed Sadiq Odeh. He admitted to be a member of Al-Qaeda.  Reported to have participated in various. terrorist operations in the Philippines , particularly in Davao City, in the early 1990s and was convicted for his participation in the 1988 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya.  He was suspected of masterminding the 1993 San Pedro Cathedral bombing. In  1995, Filipino law enforcement agency arrested him for illegal possession of explosive devices. [6]

ASG Linkages with JI.   ASG linkages with JI have already been excellently discussed by various authors.[7]    Although the organizational dynamics of JI and ASG underwent dramatic changes in the midst of a post-9/11national and regional security environment, latest developments indicate that JI-ASG linkage remains in tact and operational.  Intelligence sources reveal that the number of JI members in the Philippines collaborating with ASG was placed at around 30-50 as of May 2009.  These JI operatives continue to exploit local Muslim secessionist rebels in the Philippines by sharing their demolition skills.

The arrest of Fathur Rahman Al-Ghozi on 15 January 2002 unearthed the link between JI and ASG.  Also known as “Mike the Bomb-maker”, Al-Ghozi admitted that he participated in the 2000 Manila Rizal Day Bombing and shared to ASG members his bomb-making skills.  

The arrest of  Rohmat alias “Zaki” on 16 March 2005 also gave a more substantial information about the recent JI-ASG linkages.  Zaki, an Indonesian national, confessed to several crimes involving the ASG since 2000, including training members to make bombs in JI-run camps.[8]  Known as the “ASG the bomb trainer”, Zaki admitted that he trained ASG members in bomb making, particularly the use of mobile phones as detonating devices and the use of toothpaste as bomb paraphernalia.” [9] He also admitted to have coordinated the 2005 Valentine’s Day bombings, which resulted in the brutal death of 10 people and the serious wounding of at least 150 others. JI-ASG link was further confirmed by Mohammed Nassir bin Abbas who confessed to have led the Mantiqi Three based in Camp Hodeiba in the Southern Philippines to train both ASG and MILF fighters. 

Estimated number of JI members operating in the Philippines as of the end of 2010 was reported to be 25 together with at least 40 personalities described by the intelligence establishment as foreign military jihadists. Their frequent areas of operations in Mindanao are believed to be Camp Hodeiba, Mount Cararao; Mount Piagayongan, Butig, Lanao del Sur; Barangay Kamanga, Isulan, Sultan Kudarat; Barangay Kamanga, Esperanza, Sultan Kudarat; Mount Magaturing, Maguindanao; Sitio Katol, Barangay Damading, Salipada K. Pendatun, Maguindanao; Barangay Bagoinged, Pagalungan, Maguindanao; and Barangay Nangaan and Simone, both in Kabacan, Cotabato.    Two JI personalities (Dulmatin and Umar Patek) known suspects for the October 2002 bombings in Bali, Indonesia are reported to be hiding in Mindanao with key ASG leaders.

[This piece is taken from Rommel C. Banlaoi, Counter-Terrorism Measures in Southeast Asia:  How Effective Are They? (Manila: Yuchengco Center, 2009)].
[1] Jason Burke, Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror (London: I. B. Tarus, 2003), p.  101.
[2] See Rommel C. Banlaoi, Prototype 9/11:  The Bojinka Plot in the Philippines (Quezon City:  Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, forthcoming 2010).
[3] For a brief account of Bojinka Plot, see Peter Lance, 1000 Years for Revenge:  International Terrorism and the FBI, The Untold Story (New York: Harper and Collins Book, 2003), pp. 216-217, 254-256 and 283-284.  Also see Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower:  Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (New York:  Vintage Book, 2006).
[4]See Zachary Abuza, “Tentacles of Terror:  Al Qaeda’s Southeast Asian Linkages” (Paper presented in the conference “Transnational Violence and Seams of Lawlessness in the Asia Pacific”  Linkages to Global Terrorism” held at the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies, Honolulu, Hawaii on 12-21 February 2002), p. 6.  Also published in Contemporary Southeast Asia, Volume 24, Number 2 (December 2002), pp. 427-466.
[5] Banlaoi, “Transnational Islam in the Philippines”, p. 188.
[6]Ibid.  Also see Ma. Concepcion B. Clamor, “Terrorism and Southeast Asia:  A Philippine Perspective” (Paper presented in the conference “Transnational Violence and Seams of Lawlessness in the Asia Pacific”  Linkages to Global Terrorism” held at the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies, Honolulu, Hawaii on 12-21 February 2002).
[7]See Rohan Gunaratna, Inside Al-Qaeda: Global Network of Terror (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002);  Zachary Abuza, “Tentacles of Terror:  Al-Qaeda’s Southeast Asian Network”,  Contemporary Southeast Asia, Vol. 24, No. 3 (December 2002), pp. 427-465.; Maria Ressa, Seeds of Terror:  An Eyewitness Account of Al-Qaeda’s Newest Center of Operations in Southeast Asia (New York:  Free Press, 2003)  and Rommel C. Banlaoi, War on Terrorism in Southeast Asia (Manila: Rex Book Store International, 2004).  
[8]Alleged bombs expert for Jemaah Islamiyah regional network arrested in Philippine”, Channel News Asia at  <accessed on 12 April 2005>.
[9]Interview with General Marlu Quevedo, Chief of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, held at Camp General Emilio Aguinaldo, Quezon City on 29 March 2005.

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