(February 7, 2002) Dozens of Filipinos are still listed as missing and presumed dead in the September 11 World Trade Center attacks. But they are not the only Filipinos to perish at the hands of Usama bin Laden and his Al-Qaida terrorist gangs.
Investigations by Philippine and other Southeast Asian intelligence services since September 11 have uncovered evidence that bin Laden recruited and trained many of the top cadres of the Abu Sayyaf group and that he has been funding their deadly operations in the Philippines for nearly a decade. (1)
The Abu Sayyaf group (ASG) is the most radical of the Islamic separatist groups operating in the southern Philippines. Abu Sayyaf's activities include bombings, assassinations, kidnappings, and extortion from companies and businessmen in order to attain their aims. The group's first major terrorist attack was a grenade attack in 1991, in which two foreign women were killed. In April 1995 Abu Sayyaf carried out a particularly brutal attack on the predominantly Christian town of Ipil in Mindanao, where they destroyed the town center and killed more than 50. Even back then the military reported that the group had forged links with international terrorist cells. On April 23, 2000 a gang of Abu Sayyaf militants raided a divers' resort on Sipadan Island off Malaysian Borneo. They kidnapped 21 tourists and resort workers and took them at gunpoint back to their hideout on Jolo Island, a trip of just over an hour by boat.
Philippine "Mujahedeen" Return From Mazar-e-Sharif
At least 20 of the leading members of the Abu Sayyaf rebel group returned from Afghanistan in 2001 to conduct terrorist missions in the country. Professor Ahmad Alzzoraj Ibrahim says these extremists belong to the Abu Sayyaf group and were trained by bin Laden's men at a camp outside Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan. (2)
These 20 "mujahedeen," as they call themselves, are not the only Filipinos to return from Afghan camps to conduct terrorist attacks in the islands. At least 10 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front came back from Afghanistan, reports the professor, a member of the Moro National Liberation Front council of elders. Those 10 were responsible for the attacks in Ozamiz City and Manila last year. (2) The terrorists blew up two passenger buses onboard a ferry boat in Ozamiz City in early 2000, killing 45 and injuring 20. One of just many terrorist attacks.
Bin Laden Funds Abu Sayyaf
These are not the first reports to hit the media of alleged contacts between Usama bin Laden's Al-Qaida organization and extremist groups in the Philippines. In September 1998 the Gulf News in Zamboanga City reported that Usama bin Laden had been sending money to Abu Sayyaf since the early 1990s. A former Moro National Islamic Liberation Front commander corroborated allegations of a financial tie between bin Laden and Abu Sayyaf. Basilan Governor Wahad Akbar says that, while he was a leader of the Moros, he learned that large sums of money were being "channeled" to Abu Sayyaf leader Abubakar Abdurajak Janjalani. Akbar says Janjalani used the money to buy at least 40 automatic rifles. (3)
Bin Laden's Brother-in-law Handled Money for Terrorist Operation
Philippine military intelligence says an international relief agency laundered the money bin Laden forwarded to Janjalani. Abu Anzar, a former member of the Muslim extremist group, says the International Islamic Relief Organization was the conduit for the funds from bin Laden. Abu Anzar says that an Abu Sayyaf cell in Manila was founded in 1992 with money that had been sent by Bin Laden and his brother-in-law, Mohamed Jamal Khalifia, via the relief agency. (3, 4)
Khalifia fled the Philippines in 1996 when security forces began uncovering links between him, the Abu Sayyaf group and Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind behind the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. (5, 6)
Ramzi Yousef Trained Bomb-makers in the Philippines
Philippine intelligence says Ramzi Yousef was in the Philippines to teach bomb-making techniques to Abu Sayyaf members in 1995. Yousef allegedly tried to organize a plot using Abu Sayyaf terrorists to simultaneously destroy 12 American passenger jets that year. The plot was uncovered by accident, when firefighters responded to a blaze at the Manila apartment building that the terrorists were using as a base. Plans for the raid were found along with evidence of a plot by two bin Laden assassins to kill the pope during his visit to Manila. (5, 6)
Ramzi Yousef fled but was arrested in Islamabad and extradited to the United States. Another bin Laden terrorist leader took over that plan after Ramzi Yousef was jailed. He scheduled the detonation of the 12 American airplanes for the Millenium New Year, but the plot was uncovered and the terrorists were forced to abort their scheme. (5, 6)
Abu Anzar says that the Ramzi Yousef cases show that bin Laden's money was not given freely. In addition to providing men and a base for the 12-plane plan, Abu Anzar adds, money was sent to Abu Sayyaf on the understanding that it would be used to fund similar terrorist organizations in other parts of Southeast Asia. (5, 6)
Asia "Center of Bin Laden Financial Network"
The Far Eastern Economic Review reported in October, 2001 that Abu Anzar's testimony is just one of many "hints that Asia may be at the center of bin Laden's worldwide financial network." Citing information provided by the Horwarth financial group of Hong Kong, the magazine says, "There is certainly evidence that bin Laden's money is floating around Asia. His past associates say he used banks in Hong Kong and Malaysia, while his brother-in-law spent years in the Philippines and has been linked to the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf." (4, 7)
Indonesian Extremists Trained by Bin Laden
The Far Eastern Economic Review adds, "In Indonesia, too, there are dark suspicions that bin Laden has helped finance Islamic groups." Sources in Jakarta reported in late September, 2001 that "hundreds" of Southeast Asian Muslims have been trained by him and have fought on the side of bin Laden and Taliban forces in Afghanistan. Many of those allegedly went to Pakistan to study in religious schools, but never reported for classes. Instead, they were taken over the border to Afghanistan for indoctrination and training. On returning home, they recruited radicals like themselves and imparted the skills they had learned in the Afghan terror camps to their new comrades. (5, 7)
Bin Laden Demolitions Experts in Philippines
The Philippine intelligence service claims that several Pakistani and Arab terrorist experts, including several known demolitions experts, were killed during an army raid on a known terrorist training base in 2000. The army believes that several hundred Filipinos and at least 700 Indonesian extremists passed through that camp in the late 1990s. (2, 5)
The military arrested three of the Abu Sayyaf men who are believed to have been trained in that camp. Southern Command chief Lt. Gen. Roy Cimatu says that Madja Hamja, Hamil Hamjah and Hadjid Moro were preparing to conduct "a massive bombing campaign" in mainland Zamboanga. All three, the general says, are "members of the Abu Sayyaf terror squad." (2, 5)
1. Far Eastern Economic Review, 9/27/01 (The Region Takes Sides)
2. The Manila Times, 10/4/01 (MNLF Official: Some 20 Afghan-Trained Filipino Extremists Returned To Sow Terror)
3. Gulf News (Zamboanga City) 9/10/98 (The Philippines - Abu Sayyaf Group, Moro National Liberation Front and Moro Islamic Liberation Front)
4. The Observer (London) 9/23/01 (Charity 'had bin Laden links' claim)
5. Far Eastern Economic Review, 9/27/01 (The Coming War: The Danger Within)
6. Far Eastern Economic Review, 9/27/01 (The Coming War: Thwarted Plots)
7. Far Eastern Economic Review, 10/4/01 (Osama bin Laden: The Cash Flow)