Tuesday, January 24, 2006

MILF Renews Hunt For Sayyaf, Jemaah In Southern RP

ZAMBOANGA CITY (Zamboanga Journal / 24 Jan) Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels have began a renewed operation to help authorities capture the leader of the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group and the Jemaah Islamiya network in the southern Philippines, coinciding with the start of fresh anti-terror training between US and Filipino troops.

The MILF said it is helping the government track down Khadafy Janjalani, whose group is blamed for the spate of kidnappings and bombings in Mindanao island, and in Manila the past years.

"Our forces are working in coordination with the Philippine authorities under a two-year old agreement signed between the MILF and the government," Eid kabalu, a spokesman for the MILF, said Tuesday.

The MILF, the country's largest Muslim separatist rebel group, is currently negotiating peace with Manila. It forged an agreement in 2004 that paved the way for rebel forces to help government hunt down terrorists and criminal elements in areas where the MILF is actively operating.
It also shares intelligence information about the Jemaah Islamiya and the Abu Sayyaf with the military through the ad-hoc joint action group.

The MILF has previously help authorities arrest suspected terrorists and criminals in Mindanao. And even provided the government a list of dozens of names of Filipino and foreign terrorists hiding in the region.

Kabalu said latest intelligence reports suggested that Janjalani could be hiding out in western Mindanao and as far as the Sulu archipelago which covers the islands of Jolo and Tawi-Tawi.

"MILF units are constantly gathering intelligence not only about Janjalani and the Abu Sayyaf, but also information on other terrorist groups, such as the Jemaah Islamiya," Kabalu said. "We have alerted our forces to intensify the hunt for the terrorists in Basilan and the Zamboanga Peninsula, and in Jolo and Tawi-Tawi islands and in other parts of Mindanao."
But MILF rebels are under strict orders to stay away from where US and Philippine soldiers are conducting their training to avoid clashes.

US and Filipino troops are currently participating in joint trainings in Carmen town in North Cotabato province in Mindanao and a bigger exercise is underway in the southern Jolo island, where the rebels are known to actively operate.

Kabalu quoting previous intelligence report said Janjalani was last seen with the group of Jemaah Islamiya bomb-makers Umar Patek and Dulmatin, both tagged as behind the 2002 Bali bombings that killed more than 200 people.

The Jemaah Islamiyah has been blamed for a string of attacks in the Philippines and Indonesia, including a blast at Jakarta's J.W. Marriott hotel the following year that left a dozen people dead and the Australian embassy bombing also in Jakarta that killed 10 people. Manila said two groups remain the biggest threats not only in the country, but also in Southeast Asia.

The MILF said the Abu Sayyaf and the Jemaah islamiya have fragmented into smaller groups and are believed to be hiding from one place to another in Mindanao.

Last year, troops mounted a massive operation against Janjalani, Patek and Dulmatin last year in Maguindanao province, but failed to capture the trio, although eight of their followers were killed, Kabalu said.
Kabalu said the huge bounty offered both by Washington and Manila have forced many Abu Sayyaf leaders, including Janjalani, Patek and Dulmatin to hide for fear of arrest. "They are now constantly moving from one place to another, and hiding like rats, to avoid detection by the military and bounty hunters," he said.

The US has offered as much as $10 million bounty for the arrest of Dulmatin and $5 million for Janjalani's capture. It also offered $1 reward for Patek's capture. The bounty offered for Dulmatin is the second highest award offered under the Rewards for Justice Program, exceeded only by the $25 million award offered for Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Since its inception in 1984, the Rewards for Justice Program has paid more than $62 million to more than 40 persons who have provided credible information that has resulted in the apprehension of terrorists or prevented acts of international terrorism.

On October 25, 2004, the US Embassy in Manila paid a total of $1 million to three Filipino informants in Basilan island for helping locate Abu Sayyaf leader Hamsiraji Sali, who was implicated in the kidnapping and killing of two US hostages Martin Burnham and Guillermo Sobero in 2002.

International terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna said the Jemaah Islamiya is allegedly receiving funding from the al-Qaeda and unidentified financiers in the Middle East, aside from arms and munitions and explosives from their cells in the southern Philippines where it has put up active camps in the region, Gunaratna, head of terrorism research, Institute for Defense and Strategic Studies in Singapore, said.
Filipino security officials on Tuesday said soldiers were also tracking down Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiya in the southern Philippines.

"Our operation against the Abu Sayyaf is going on, but we cannot determine yet whether Janjalani has returned to hiding in Jolo, but we have intelligence operatives out there," Brig. Gen. Alexander Aleo, Jolo military chief, said in a separate interview on Tuesday.

Aleo said security is tight in Jolo because of the upcoming training dubbed as Balikatan 2006. He said US and Filipino soldiers would mostly be working together in humanitarian activities to help poor families on the island. "US troops will not participate in any combat operation against the Abu Sayyaf, but more on medical missions," he said.

Philippine authorities said at least 60 Jemaah Islamiya members are believed to be hiding in Mindanao and were training local recruits.

An al-Qaeda-trained Indonesian Jemaah Islamiya bomb-maker Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi operated extensively in the Philippines and organized a series of five bombings in Manila in December 2000, which killed 22 and injured over 100 until he was killed in a clash with security forces three years later in Mindanao.
Since then, dozens of foreigners with links to either the al-Qaeda or Jemaah Islamiya have been arrested in the southern Philippines with the help of the United States. But despite this, two powerful bombs were detonated by the Abu Sayyaf in Zamboanga City, wounding at least 26 people in July last year, and a ferry at Manila Bay was also bombed in August, killing more than 100 people.

The United States labeled the Abu Sayyaf group and Jemaah Islamiya as foreign terrorist organizations.

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