Sunday, September 11, 2011



Delivered at the 5th National Convention of the Philippine Society for Industrial Security, Inc., held at the Waterfront Hotel, Cebu City on 9 September 2011

A decade after September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States,  terrorism continues to pose an enormous threat not only to Philippine national security but also to regional stability and world peace. 

This virulent threat is becoming more and more dynamic and is continuously evolving into a highly complex and uncompromising form that makes the threat even harder to prevent, if not to totally eliminate.

It has been said that 9/11 gave terrorism its new ugly face. 

Ten years after 9/11, we now learned that terrorists have the ability to face-lift and change its already nasty image.  It has the proclivity to innovate in order to survive the harsh environment of counter terrorism.  Like a chameleon, terrorists can blend with their surroundings to evade arrest and pursue their clandestine operations.

The changing face of terrorism continues to pose a tremendous challenge for global, regional and national counter terrorism, particularly if law enforcement authorities have a static view and traditional understanding of the whole gamut of problems associated with this menace.

Globally, Al-Qaeda remains to be the main international terrorist group with worldwide influence. 

However, the July 22, 2011 terrorist attacks on Norway that killed 76 persons have aptly demonstrated that Al Qaeda, which promotes Islamic Fundamentalism, does not have the monopoly of terrorism.   Even a “lone wolf” embracing Christian Fundamentalism can also commit hideous terrorist acts.

Through the decisive counter-terrorism efforts of the United States supported by its allies and partners in the global war on terrorism (GWOT), Al-Qaeda’s original global infrastructure has been practically crippled. Its complex and carefully woven global network has been utterly discovered, effectively disrupted and some even totally paralyzed. 

Al Qaeda founder, Osama bin Laden, is already dead.  In fact, almost two-thirds of the original leaders and members of Al-Qaeda have been neutralized to date as a result of GWOT.   Its central leadership has practically crumbled and its regional affiliates and adherents successfully dispersed. 

After ten years of vigorously waging the war on terror, Al-Qaeda is no longer a strong notorious force as it used to be. 

Al Qaeda is now having difficulties mounting another catastrophic attacks beyond its main areas of operations in Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.  With this, American President Barrack Obama, in his introduction to the current U.S. Counter Terrorism Strategy, proudly declares that Al Qaeda has been put “on the path to defeat”.

But that is not the reason for the whole world to be complacent.   

While Al Qaeda has no doubt weakened ten years after 9/11, it is not yet a spent force.  Al Qaeda may have been seriously wounded in battle, but it is not yet dead.  It still gets its life support from remaining followers  and inspired adherents worldwide.

Thus, there is still a need for us to be more anxious because Al Qaeda is still a wicked force to contend with.  As stressed by US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, “We have made serious inroads in weakening al Qaeda. [But] there's more to be done. There are these nodes now in Yemen, in Somalia and other areas that we have to continue to go after." 

The 2010 Country Reports on Terrorism prepared by the US State Department admits that Al Qaeda continues to pose a threat.

There is no doubt that Al Qaeda still has the malevolent intent and growing capabilities to wreak terrorist havocs. Some, if not many, of its regional affiliates and global adherents are still alive and ready to make trouble.  Almost 500 Al Qaeda-linked and Al Qaeda-inspired commanders - with their own associate members worldwide numbering around 10,000 - are still active to disturb peace and undermine global, regional and Philippine national security.

In Pakistan alone, there are still around 300 fierce Al Qaeda fighters associated with Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET) and Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).  In Afghanistan, around 100 hardcore Al Qaeda operatives are still active and still getting support from Talibans. Even in the United States, there are at least 40 Americans who have traveled to Somalia to join the Al Qaeda inspired Al Shabab.  

It is also important to note that some Moro rebels have also been reportedly affiliated with Al Shabab (locally known as Markasos Shabab).   There are also reports of an undetermined number of Al Qaeda-inspired personalities staying in the Philippines.

Hence, there is a need for us to face the grim reality that ideology of Al Qaedaism lives on even after the death of Osama bin Laden. 

The violent extremist ideology of Al Qaeda still resonates to like-minded groups worldwide such as Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) of Uzbekistan, the Islamic Army of Great Britain, the Eastern Turkistan Movement of Xinjiang (China), the Al-Harakatul-Al Islamiya of the Philippines,  the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi of Pakistan, the Harkatul Jehadul Islami operating in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, and Jemaah Islamiyah of Indonesia, among many others.

Remaining masterminds of terror associated with Al Qaeda have proven to be very resilient, keenly observant and highly elusive. 

Though Al Qaeda may have already lost its steam as a result of the series of democratic uprisings in the Arab world, it can still morph into a newer face under the leadership of Ayman Al Zawahiri whose brand of Islam contains the key ingredients for violent extremism.    Al Zawahiri has even released a video last August 2011 urging Al Qaeda followers worldwide to avenge the death of Osama bin Laden.

Through the use of Internet and Islamic propagation activities, Al Qaeda still has the commitment to promote religious intolerance, particularly to young and gullible Muslim population worldwide.  It can still inspire and instigate sectarian violence in conflict-affected areas of the world with disgruntled Muslim population that includes the Philippines.  In fact, Al-Qaeda is producing a magazine called Inspire to spread its violent extremist ideology worldwide.

At present, Al Qaeda is already weak as a group. 

But it can still throw its remaining weight around because Al Qaeda is still relatively influential as a movement. 

As a movement, Al Qaeda has become a “complex adaptive system” that has the survival instinct to evolve by adjusting to its “constantly changing” environment.  While Al Qaeda celebrates its victories, it also learns from its mistakes.  As a complex adaptive movement, Al Qaeda now operates through what Seth Jones calls five tiers: central al Qaeda, affiliated groups, allied groups, allied networks, and inspired individuals.

Al Qaeda is still determined to destroy America and other Western targets. 

Based on the seized documents of Osama bin Laden in the aftermath of his death, Al Qaeda planned to attack oil tankers to create economic chaos in the West.  The US also warned of possible Al-Qaeda attacks in the mainland using a small plane.  India has recently unearthed Al Qaeda plans to attack its major cities through its commander, Ilyas Kashmiri.  Even in China, the Al Qaeda linked East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), based in Xinjiang Province where Uyghur separatists are active,  is also planning future attacks.

In Egypt,  the home country of the new Al Qaeda chief Al Zawahiri, Al Qaeda has re-established a cell in Sinai to plan attacks, particularly against police stations.  In Spain, a Islamic militant with a Moroccan descent was arrested for propagating violent extremism and for endorsing terrorist attacks on Western targets.

In mounting attacks, Al Qaeda has already mastered the use of suicide terrorism, particularly in Afghanistan, Algeria, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen - with a strong possibility of exporting these skills to the Philippines.   Al Qaeda’s use of indiscriminate bombings of vulnerable targets has made terrorism its new repulsive face.  The use of these skills continues to inform the present and future activities of its affiliates, adherents and followers around the world. 

Worst, Al Qaeda is developing new explosives to wreak havoc. 

Al Qaeda’s affiliates in Yemen have produced a new chemical bomb made of poison ricin, a white powdery toxin that if annihilated in malls, airports or subways is very lethal. Al Qaeda operatives in the United Kingdom have also created a new version of a liquid bomb, an improved version of the nitroglycerin explosive invented by Ramsey Yousef while in the Philippines in 1994. 

In other words, Al Qaeda has weakened organizationally. 

But the security threat it poses has not been totally eliminated. 

Al Qaeda is battered, but it is still breathing and moving.  It still has the great illusion of creating a Pan-Islamic caliphate throughout the Islamic world that includes Southeast Asia.

In Southeast Asia, the Al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) has also weakened a decade after 9/11.   Most of its key operatives have also been killed and arrested, particularly those responsible in the 2002 Bali bombing and other subsequent bombings in Indonesia and the Philippines.   Some of its members have left terrorism behind as a result of serious rehabilitation and de-radicalization programs in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.  

Like Al Qaeda, JI organizational set-up is already in utter disarray.  Its original Mantiqi structure is practically demolished. In fact, JI has already lost its original luster and is now heavily factionalized.

However, terror threats in Southeast Asia persist because around 700 remaining JI members are still active in Java, Indonesia and to a lesser extent in Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand.

Currently, JI is rapidly evolving into a new venomous form.

In Indonesia, for example, personalities recently accused of terrorist acts have ceased to identify themselves with JI.  They have been identified with another group called Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT) legally established by Abu Bakar Bashir who is also known to be a JI leader.

Among the known JI personalities in Indonesia, we need to pay attention to Aris Sumarsono. 

Sumarsono is a JI military chief and a protégé of Abdullah Sungkar, the founder of JI.  He is believed to have helped prepare the bombs used in the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people. 

Sumarsono is being rumored now to have already replaced Omar Patek who became the main link of Al Qaeda with JI. He was reported to have visited the Philippines and established links with the ASG and other Moro rebels.  Sumarsono is also believed to have established links with Basit Usman, a master bomber operating in Central Mindanao.

Al Qaeda and JI influences have reached the Philippines through the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and some Muslim armed groups associated with Al Khobar Group (AKG) and the so-called Special Operations Group (SOG) of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).  

It is already a public knowledge that as early as the 1990s, Al Qaeda presence in the Philippines was already established through the activities of Mohammad Jamal Khalifa who is the brother-in-law of Osama bin Laden.   Ramsey Yousef, the perpetrator of the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing, went to the Philippines in 1994 to hide and design the Bojinka Plot, which aimed to bomb the twin tower of New York City using 11 jetliners. 

Khalik Sheid Mohammad, identified as the principal architect of 9/11 bombings, was also in the Philippines in 1995 to work with Yousef in designing the Bojinka Plot and the twin plots to assassinate Pope John Paul II and US President Bill Clinton.  But the person that revealed Al Qaeda operations in the Philippines was Abdul Hakim Murad who was arrested in the Philippines in 1995 for his participation in the Bojinka Plot.

JI presence in the Philippines was also established in the late 1990s in Central Mindanao through a training camp in Mt. Cararao. 

The 2000 Rizal Day Bombings were attributed to JI.  Father Rahman Al Ghozi, JI principal bomb maker operating in the Philippines, confessed that he provided the necessary explosives for the 2000 Rizal Day Bombings.  Nasir Abbas, a former JI instructor and now working for the Indonesian government on de-radicalization programs, admitted that he belonged to the JI Mantiqi 3 in the Philippines, which planned the 2000 Rizal Day Bombing.

In Mindanao, JI has become more of a trademark to describe foreign military jihadists entering the Philippines to preach the gospel of violent extremism.  Locally, Abu Sayyaf calls them Java men if they are Indonesians.

Among the Moro armed groups in the Philippines, JI links with the ASG is more robust and active at present.  Three high profile JI personalities, namely Marwan (Malaysian), Mauwiyah (Singaporean) and Qayyim (Indonesian) are still working or seeking refuge with ASG commanders.  Other “low-profile” JI personalities operating in the Philippines have the following aliases:  Sanusi, Bahar, Abu Jihad, Usman, Mustaqueem and Hamdan.

It is estimated that around 30 JI personalities are still in the Philippines hiding in Sulo, Basilan, and Tawi-Tawi with ASG followers. Some are said to be operating in Central Mindanao together with Al Khobar, the so-called MILF-SOG and some personalities allegedly identified with the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighter (BIFF) now called Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM) of Umbra Kato.

Speaking on BIFM, this new armed group can make the peace talks between the Philippine government and the MILF problematic.  With a current estimated strength of more than 1,000 armed followers (Kato has a self-proclaimed number of 5,000) pursuing an armed struggle to advance the Bangsamoro right for self-determination, the BIFM can make peace in Mindanao very elusive.   

The BIFM has become a residual armed Moro group that is a party to the complex conflict in Mindanao but not a party to the now intractable peace process.  BIFM reported ties with some personalities associated with the Misuari’s Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), JI, the so-called MILF-SOG and other armed groups complicate the already complex armed violence in the Southern Philippines.

Philippine law enforcement authorities tagged JI-MILF-SOG behind the August 2, 2011 bombing in Cotabato City that killed a person and wounding of 10 others.  The Improvised Explosive Device (IED) used in the January 25, 2011 Makati bus bombing, on the other hand, carried the JI-Al Khobar-MILF-ASG signature called by explosive experts as the “Bandung device”. 

The ASG is one of the groups suspected to be responsible for the Makati bus bombing that killed five persons and wounded at least 14 others.

The ASG, however, is already a very tiny group of less than 100-armed followers.  Though the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has estimated the strength of the ASG to be around 400, followers of ASG are, in fact, difficult to estimate because of its links with various armed groups associated with local bandits, warlords, local politicians and even followers of the MILF and the MNLF. 

ASG’s encounter with the Philippine Marines in Patikul, Sulo on July 28, 2011 (that led to the death of 7 and wounding of 21 Marines) has demonstrated that the ASG, though already weakened, is also not yet, strictly speaking,  a spent force like its idol, Al Qaeda.  The instruction of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III to crush the ASG is a tantamount admission that the ASG is still a very potent force to contend with.

Though the ASG continues to be a miniscule group compared with the strength of the AFP, it can still inflict tremendous damages against military forces not only because of ASG's mastery of the terrain but also because of ASG's new precarious combatants who are aggressively young and brutally bred in war. 

Military forces are trained to fight the ASG.  But new ASG combatants live to fight and they fight to live.  There is now a new ASG whose followers are younger, more exuberant, more perilous and more enterprising. 

The new ASG has become a loose network of a few Moro rebels operating with many young Muslim mercenaries who have become established bandits and hardened criminals engaged in extortions, arms smuggling, drug trafficking and kidnapping for ransom. Some ASG adherents are protected by local warlords and corrupt public officials who are entrepreneurs of violence in Mindanao. 

As a result, the ASG has become so resilient.  It gets its staying power from the predatory politics and violent economies of Mindanao that create individuals to embrace violent extremism and terrorism.

In short, terrorism emanating largely from ASG and its cohorts continue to pose serious threats to Philippine national security because terrorism is evolving to a form we never knew before.  

Al Qaeda’s violent extremist ideology that endorses acts of terrorism still resonates to Muslim Filipinos who are disgruntled with the situation or not satisfied with their current socio-economic, political and personal conditions.   This ideology is being used to justify barbaric acts of ASG for socio-economic, political and personal reasons.  Remaining leaders of ASG prey on young and illiterate Muslim Filipinos to commit acts of terrorism. 

The 2010 Country Reports on Terrorism laments that the Philippines continues to be one of the world’s terrorist safe havens despite the fact that terrorist acts in the country have declined in 2010.

While the global war on terror has given us a better understanding of terrorist threats ten years after 9/11, the present threat we face is dynamic and has the ability to metamorphose into something else in order to survive.  Some threats have regrettably mutated into a more terrifying form with their growing nexus with crimes, banditry, clan conflicts, warlordism, and other expressions of armed violence. 

The current terrorist threats we face, particularly in the Philippines, are deeply enmeshed with a host of many other issues associated with internal armed conflicts, private armed violence, warlordism, rido or clan warfare, personal vendetta, and ordinary crimes.

To confront the threat of terrorism, the Philippines passed in 2007 the Human Security Act, which serves as the country’s anti-terrorism law.  But the government is currently facing difficulties in implementing this law.  

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has also passed in 2007 the ASEAN Convention on Counter Terrorism.   But ASEAN also has a problem enforcing this convention.

The more nuanced approach to address terrorist threats is found in the United Nations Global Counter Terrorism Strategy adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2006.    This strategy promotes the four measures of counter terrorism, to wit:

·      Measures to address the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism
·      Measures to prevent and combat terrorism
·      Measures to build States' capacity to prevent and combat terrorism and to strengthen the role of the United Nations system in this regard
·      Measures to ensure respect for human rights for all and the rule of law as the fundamental basis of the fight against terrorism

All these measures point to the inconvenient truth that terrorist threats cannot be addressed by the military or law enforcement authorities alone.  Terrorist threats are deeply rooted in many complex issues that are beyond the capacities of law enforcement authorities to handle. 

Thus, addressing terrorist threats requires a whole-of-government approach. 

But the government cannot do it alone.  It requires the support of the whole society.  The whole-of-government approach in sync with the whole-of-society approach can lead to the whole-of-nation approach to combat terrorism.

But terrorism has a regional dimension needing a whole-of-region approach.

Implementing these approaches are easier said than done. 

But it is important to say these in order to raise our awareness on the need to develop an innovative approach to confront a national security threat we call terrorism.

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