Military, defense officials say JI still in Mindanao

(2ND UPDATE) ELEMENTS of the al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terrorist group were still operating in Mindanao, military and defense officials said Monday.

The confirmation came from Indonesian Taufik Rifqi, alias Abu Obaidah, the JI's alleged "number two man" who was arrested in Cotabato City earlier this month, they said.

"Jemaah Islamiyah operates here and the arrest of Taufiq Rifqi proves it," Armed Forces Vice Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Rodolfo Garcia said.

Rifqi was arrested at a Cotabato hotel in early October, but the authorities only confirmed his detention two weeks later.

Defense Secretary Eduardo Ermita said up to 40 Mindanao-trained JI foreign militants may be in the Philippines.

As this developed GMA Network television, quoting sources in the Philippine intelligence community, reported that a man named Muhajir, believed to be the younger brother of slain Indonesian terrorist Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, was heading the JI group.

In a report by the International Crisis Group cited by the intelligence sources and publicly available on the web, Muhajir was said to be a firearms instructor for JI and behind Christmas Eve bombings in Mojokerto, East Java, Indonesia in 2000.

"These are foreign terrorists who in 1999 and 2000 conducted training in Camp Abubakar," he said, referring to the former headquarters of the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in central Mindanao.

"When all the camps were dismantled, they were driven away. But they are still there in the area, and they are the subject of intensive intelligence gathering of the Armed Forces and the police," he said.

Army Colonel Felipe Tabas, head of an anti-terrorist task force in Cotabato, said the authorities suspected that up to eight JI members had trained in bombmaking in the nearby village of Cararao, which formed part of Camp Abubakar.

Ermita's statement came as authorities said Monday they had found bomb-making materials, a bio-terrorism manual and traces of possible biological weapons in a raid on a hideout of JI.

Up to eight local and foreign JI suspects escaped Sunday's raid but left behind residues of what the authorities suspected could be a chemical carrying the tetanus bacteria, Garcia said.

"It's being analyzed by chemical forensic experts," the deputy chief of staff told a news conference.

GMA-7 Frontpage, however, quoted Garcia as well as local and American experts and said that the residue was from explosive materials and biological weapons had been ruled out.

Police also seized documents, including "one that details some bio-terror manuals or something to that effect," he said on ABS-CBN television.

Cotabato police investigator Felipe Napoles said Sunday's raid turned up "bomb-making material, electronic components and gadgets, diagrams for homemade bomb-making and Christmas light wiring," as well as computer diskettes.

Police briefly detained the landlord, Lolito Adanza, for questioning but later released him without charges.

Adanza told police that Filipinos had rented the apartment, but "foreign-looking men had been frequenting the house," superintendent Napoles said.

JI is a Southeast Asian Islamic network blamed for a series of bombings in the region, including last year's Bali blasts that killed 202 people.

The US government considers the JI an affiliate of the al-Qaeda group said to be behind the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.

Manila's anti-terror allies have expressed concern in recent days about JI's activities on Mindanao, a large island that borders Indonesia and Malaysia and has been a hotbed of a decades-old Muslim separatist rebellion.

MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu again denied Monday charges that the group had hosted JI training facilities.

The MILF is set to begin formal peace talks with Manila this month in a bid to end the 25-year rebellion that has claimed thousands of lives.


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