Philippines captures two al-Qaeda suspects, hunting more

MANILA, : The Philippines said two Arab al-Qaeda suspects had been captured and that a huge manhunt was under way in the south of the country for dozens of militants from the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) group.

Immigration Commissioner Andrea Domingo said Jordanian Mahmoud Afif Abdeljalil, 36, was being interrogated while Kuwaiti Jasem Alhasan had been deported. She said both were suspected al-Qaeda operatives.

The men were detained within the past few weeks in the southern city of Zamboanga where the authorities said they were in close contact with Islamic militants from the Abu Sayyaf and other groups.

The hunt for the militants from Jemaah Islamiyah, the group behind last year's bombings on the Indonesian island of Bali, was launched after the capture of the group's alleged number two in the Philippines.

Taufek Refke, 23, an Indonesian, was paraded in handcuffs at the justice department Thursday where President Gloria Arroyo said Taufek had been the financier of a series of deadly bombings in Mindanao this year.

Arroyo said Refke was a student of JI explosives expert Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, who was killed by police on October 12. She said documents uncovered during his arrest showed a cell of around 40 JI militants on the loose in Mindanao.

"We will not stop until all fugitives are accounted for," said Arroyo, a key US ally in the war on terrorism who hosted US President George W. Bush last week.

"Government operatives have been pouring into Mindanao to hunt down his other companions and we have already informed Indonesian authorities," Arroyo said.

Intelligence agencies and analysts say JI is effectively the Southeast Asian arm of al-Qaeda, and both groups have been accused of close links to Philippine Islamic rebels in Mindanao.

Refke is believed to have entered the Philippines in August 1998 to undergo training at Camp Abubakar, the former headquarters of the main separatist rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Interior Secretary Jose Lina said Refke had admitted to being the "finance and liaison officer" of JI, but he warned the fight against JI was far from over.

"The law enforcement agencies are now undertaking a massive manhunt for his cohorts. The number that has been cited was between to 20 to 40," he said, adding that most suspects were believed to be Indonesian.

The two Arabs were detained several weeks ago, said Immigration Commissioner Domingo.

She said Abdeljalil was arrested on September 25 in Zamboanga and was now being interrogated. Domingo said he was the envoy for Saudi Arabian Jamal Khalifa, Osama bin Laden's brother-in-law.

Philippine authorities have accused Khalifa of providing money to the Abu Sayyaf, a Muslim guerrilla group that is involved in bombings and kidnappings in the southern Philippines as well as in nearby Malaysia.

Domingo alleged that Abdeljalil took over Khalifa's business front companies, including a Zamboanga-based construction firm, after the Saudi Arabian left the country in 1994.

She said the companies were used to channel money to finance terrorist activities in the Philippines and abroad.

The other Arab suspect, Alhasan, was arrested at Zamboanga airport a few days before Abdeljalil. He was deported to Kuwait on October 8.

- AFP

23/10/2003

Bron : Channel News Asia

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