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Palace: Probe shows MILF links with Jemaah Islamiyah

- Marichu A. Villanueva -
Philippine National Police investigators, with help from Indonesian authorities, are close to getting evidence to prove the ties between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist group, Malacañang said yesterday.

However, President Arroyo said the government will not abandon the "peace initiative" if the MILF would cut its "links" with al-Qaeda and other international terrorist groups.

"This will help us deal with the threat in a more comprehensive manner, even as we pursue our policy of peace, security in Mindanao," she said.

In Zamboanga City, the military said it will continue to push its offensive to capture top rebel leaders, even as the MILF’s extended ceasefire ends midnight Saturday.

Military officials reported that troops shelled with mortar rounds all suspected MILF positions about 8:30 a.m. yesterday.

The MILF confirmed the government’s sustained attack particularly on the Liguasan Marsh, where the military believes the MILF’s military strategist Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and political affairs adviser Ghadzali Jaafar are holed out.

Mrs. Arroyo has ordered a military offensive to root out what she described as "terrorist cells" embedded within the MILF.

Mrs. Arroyo said the government will work with Indonesia to trace people who had contacts with five Indonesians arrested in General Santos City on suspicion of planning a terror attack.

Police said three of the men, arrested Tuesday near the bus terminal in General Santos, were found carrying a leather bag with three improvised bombs.

"We will work with the Indonesian government to trace the underground contacts of these suspects... and get a clear picture of the transnational web of conspiracy," Mrs. Arroyo said. The government would seek evidence of a "transnational web of conspiracy" in the region, including Indonesia and Malaysia, she added.

Police are investigating whether the suspects are members of the JI network blamed for a wave of bombings in Indonesia.

Armed Forces chief Gen. Narciso Abaya said authorities were trying to determine whether the suspects were linked to the JI. Abaya said the suspects’ testimonies indicate links to "a foreign terrorist organization."

He said one of the suspects told police interrogators that the others had trained in Camp Abubakar, the former stronghold of the MILF captured by government troops in 2000 during the all-out war launched by then President Joseph Estrada.

Two suspected terrorists arrested in Cagayan de Oro City airport last month have been linked by police and military intelligence agents to the al-Qaeda international terrorist network of Osama bin Laden.

Meanwhile, MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu said they suffered no casualties in the latest military siege on rebel positions.

Kabalu said it is not known whether the MILF central committee will extend anew its original 10-day unilateral suspension of military operations (SOMA), which began June 2.

The MILF had already extended the SOMA for another 10 days upon the first ceasefire’s expiry.

For its part, the military said the continuing operations were part of routine to get those responsible for the spate of bombings and attacks on the civilian populace.

Abaya said the offensives will not cease. "We have been reiterating that the operation is against those responsible in the Koronadal bombing, and attacks in Maigo, Lanao del Norte and Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte," he said.

PNP intelligence director Chief Superintendent Jesus Versoza, meanwhile, said his men had traced the connection between Saifulah Yunos and Egyptian Dia Algabre to as far back as the Afghan war in the 1980s.

Yunos was identified by Indonesian Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, an alleged JI bomb expert, as the one who planned the Rizal Day bombings.

Al-Ghozi, arrested in January last year for explosives possession, confessed to police last year that Yunos had helped him carry out the terrorist attack on the Light Rail Transit coach at Blumentritt street and Plaza Ferguson in Manila, Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay City, and a passenger bus along EDSA in Quezon City on Dec. 30, 2000.

Police said Al-Ghozi is a bomb expert from JI, which is blamed for the October bombings in Bali that left more than 200 dead, most of whom were Australians.

Mrs. Arroyo disclosed Wednesday that the government has been working through diplomatic channels with the "highest levels" in Indonesia and Malaysia to ferret out embedded terrorists in the country linked with the JI.

An Indonesian bombing suspect testified earlier this week at the Jakarta trial of Abu Bakar Bashir, the alleged spiritual head of JI, that Indonesian Muslim militants had trained in Camp Abubakar between 1997 and 1998.

The MILF has denied the allegation and insists it has no links to terrorists. But government prosecutors said Muslim militants blamed for deadly bomb attacks in Metro Manila on Dec. 30, 2000 were funded by an Indonesian leader of the JI.

State Prosecutor Peter Ong said the alleged involvement of Riduan Isamuddin alias "Hambali" in the Rizal Day bombings was revealed to investigators by Al-Ghozi and Yunos.

The two detainees, who were reunited Tuesday during their preliminary investigation at the Department of Justice, implicated each other and admitted responsibility in the bomb attacks.

"Yes, I admit it, even if I die here now," Yunos told prosecutors when asked whether he took part in planning the bomb attacks.

Al-Ghozi, on the other hand, merely affixed his signature and thumb mark on the statements he had previously given to police admitting his participation in the bombings.

Al-Ghozi, who is serving a 17-year prison term in the Philippines for possession of explosives, has admitted in writing to being a member of JI, which intelligence agencies have accused of plotting to bomb Western targets as part of a campaign to establish an Islamic state in parts of Southeast Asia.

Al-Ghozi and Yunos will be charged with multiple murder, multiple frustrated murder and multiple attempted murder.

After his arrest on May 25, Yunos admitted he was the chief of the MILF’s special operations group and acted as the planner of the Rizal Day bombings.

Yunos said he assembled the relay components of the bombs but it was Al-Ghozi who assembled the timing devices and repacked the explosives. With Roel Pareño

AL-GHOZI

AL-GHOZI AND YUNOS

CAMP ABUBAKAR

GHOZI

GOVERNMENT

MILF

MILITARY

MRS. ARROYO

RIZAL DAY

YUNOS

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