Will the United States attack the Philippines?
Sun Nov 16 19:22:10 2003
Al Qaeda in Asia
Will the United States attack the Philippines?
United States approach the terrorist problem in the Philippines?
LITTLE MENTIONED in recent reports on the war on terror were the arrests last
September of two men linked to al Qaeda. What makes these arrests particularly
interesting is that they happened in Mindanao, an island in the southern
Philippines. Jasem Alhasan, a Kuwaiti, was detained along with a known Abu
Sayyaf rebel, Ustadz Sanday. (Abu Sayyaf is the terrorist group that held
Americans Martin and Gracia Burnham hostage for more than a year and beheaded
another American, Guillermo Sobero.) Alhasan was later deported back to Kuwait
on October 8. The other suspect, Mahmoud Afif Abdeljalil of Jordan, is still
being interrogated--according to authorities, he plays a much larger role in the
al Qaeda network, having taken over a construction firm and other business
fronts from Jamal Khalifa, the brother-in-law of Osama bin Laden.
Philippine immigration chief Andrea Domingo explained that since Khalifa's
departure in 1994, Abdeljalil has continued to use these fronts to funnel money
to al Qaeda. His home in Zamboanga was also supposedly used as a safehouse for
al Qaeda operatives in the region. It is still unclear to what extent Abdeljalil
is actively involved in terrorist operations in Southeast Asia but authorities
will no doubt take "pains" to extract it from him. (The Philippine National
Police may very well order a "TI" or "tactical interrogation" as they did in
1995, when dealing with terrorist Hakim Abdul Murad. Connected to the 1993 World
Trade Center bombing and an assassination attempt against the pope, Murad was
interrogated for 67 days.)
Already in custody is Taufek Refka, an Indonesian accused of financing several
bombings in Mindanao earlier this year. He is also said to have learned his
demolitions skills from Fathur Rahman al-Ghozi, a high-ranking member of Jemaah
Islamiyah, the terrorist group held responsible for the bombings in Bali last
year that killed more than 200 people. Al-Ghozi, wanted for planting bombs that
killed 22 people in Manila in 2000 and for plotting against Western targets in
Singapore, was arrested in January 2002. But over the summer he managed to
escape, embarrassing the Manila government and leading to an intensive manhunt.
Finally, last month, al-Ghozi was spotted in a getaway car in North Cotabato,
Mindanao. A short chase ensued, with al-Ghozi shooting out the back window of
the car. Police returned fire and killed him.
THE ATTACKS, arrests, and escapes are now a frequent occurrence in the war on
terror in the Philippines, as is the complex interplay between rival factions,
terrorist cells, and separatist groups. To wit, al-Ghozi, who himself learned
how to use explosives in Pakistan, trained Jemaah Islamiyah recruits at Camp
Abubakar in Mindanao. The camp was run by the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation
Front, which is currently in the midst of peace talks with Manila. The Front is
also helping the Arroyo government in its fight against a dwindling but
persistent band of Abu Sayyaf rebels.
Defining the enemy can be frustrating: Some members of Abu Sayyaf are linked to
operatives of al Qaeda, some of whom are connected with terrorists from Jemaah
Islamiyah. At times these terrorists have interacted with the Moro Islamic
Liberation Front. (Currently, the Philippine government is focused on hunting
down 40 members of Jemaah Islamiyah on the loose in Mindanao.)
As bad as that is, the situation can worsen with the involvement of the
Philippine military. As chief of the armed forces General Narciso Abaya
announced last August, "I admit there is graft and corruption at all levels."
Officers have been accused of letting rebels escape, either in the jungles or
from prisons, for a certain price. Some of the money from foreign aid meant to
serve the poor Muslim communities in the south ends up in someone else's
pockets. Caches of weapons, including M-16s and grenade launchers issued by the
United States, have found their way into camps run by the Moro Islamic
Liberation Front and Abu Sayyaf.
Last May President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo announced that "the Abu Sayyaf are
really on the run now." Six months later, these rebels are still active, causing
some to question the current policies and tactics not only of the Philippine
government but also of the Bush administration. On his stopover in Manila, Bush
addressed the joint Congress (the first time an American president has done so
since Eisenhower) and stressed the importance of the alliance and its commitment
to ending terror. "Every nation in Asia and across the world now faces a
choice," said Bush. "Nations that choose to support terror are complicit in a
war against civilization. Nations that try to ignore terror and hope it will
only strike others are deluding themselves, undermining our common defense, and
inviting a future of catastrophic violence. Nations that choose to fight terror
are defending their own safety and the safety of free people everywhere."
BUT HOW DOES ONE CARRY THIS OUT? In light of General Abaya's admission that
corruption is widespread, Brett Decker of the New York Times suggests the best
way to solve the terrorist problem is for the United States to do the job
itself: "If Washington and Manila are serious about eliminating Abu Sayyaf, . .
. Special Forces should be given the assignment. . . . [The terrorists] would be
no match for American soldiers already in the Philippines, but they are still
eluding Filipino troops." As for whether or not this violates the Philippine
constitution, Decker mentions that the United States is allowed "to come to the
defense of the Philippines if the islands are attacked. Such an action can be
justified in the present case because the terrorist groups get foreign money."
Not so fast, say some. "We from Mindanao acknowledge that Jemaah Islamiyah
operatives could very well be here--after all, our borders with Malaysia and
Indonesia are porous," says Amina Rasul, formerly a presidential adviser to
Fidel Ramos. "However, we do not agree that the hold of Jemaah Islamiyah is as
strong as claimed by some government agencies." Rasul is currently the convenor
of the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy, an organization devoted to
studies in Islamic and democratic political thought and peaceful solutions for
Mindanao. "Our group is concerned about the growing notion that Islam and
democracy cannot coexist," she says. It's not that Rasul is against the American
presence. Rather, she is pleased with the current arrangement, which is "seen as
a positive, even by Muslim leaders. Thus far, the relationship between the
American and Philippine Muslim communities has not been hostile."
Meanwhile, Al Santoli, senior vice president of the American Foreign Policy
Council, has his own approach to the problem. "U.S. assistance programs have not
been as effective as they could be, whether in the Middle East or Southeast
Asia--because of the traditional institutional approach, which feeds into
corruption," he says. "The key to success in what is, in fact, a cultural and
religious-based conflict, is empowering local communities to help themselves
with minimal targeted assistance." Santoli runs a program called Development for
Peace in Sulu (a small island in the southern Philippines), which accepts no aid
from either Manila or Washington and aims to build health and education
infrastructures and "empower and develop moderate and enterprising leadership of
men and women--such as doctors, school teachers, and clerics--who choose to live
in their home community, regardless of the hardships."
President Bush has promised $340 million in aid to the Philippines this year.
Arroyo said she is committed to a five-year military modernization plan in the
hopes of cleaning up the corruption. The question remains: In light of the
current situation, will all of this be enough to win the war on terror or do
both countries now have to rethink their strategies?
Victorino Matus is an assistant managing editor at The Weekly Standard.
The Canberra Times, Australia - 23 hours ago
... tetanus virus, in a police raid on a hideout in the southern Philippines of
concerns raised at the Asia-Pacific Economic Forum last month that al-Qaeda ...
UN: Al Qaeda Has Decided to Use Chemical and Bio weapons
DEBKAfile, Israel - Nov 15, 2003
... Islamiyah hideout in the southern Philippines. But the risk of terrorist
of mass destruction continues to grow. The expert group adds al Qaeda ...
Attacks linked to al-Qaeda
News24, South Africa - Nov 15, 2003
... Abu Sayyaf guerrillas detonate a nail-laden bomb in a market in Zamboanga,
Philippines ... bomb
attacks in October blamed on Abu Sayyaf, a group linked to al-Qaeda ...
The Philippines is a staunch ally of the United States in its war on ... have
that the JI—the Southeast Asian arm of the terrorist network al-Qaeda ...
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