Jakarta – The authorities in Indonesia and the Philippines are working together to uncover new routes that terrorists are using to slip in and out of the two countries. The terrorists have been forced to find new routes following the arrests of some of their colleagues on the old route in General Santos City, said Philippine National Police chief, Director-General Arturo Lomibao.
"The most significant information we have gathered from the many arrests of Abu Sayyaf and the Rajah Solaiman Movement (RSM) leaders is that the terrorist alliance crosses borders," Mr Lomibao said on Nov 17 at a security briefing during a two-day meeting on counter-terrorism among Asean chiefs of police in Jakarta.
He said Jemaah Islamiah (JI) militants are now using the Tawi-Tawi sea frontier. "The old GenSan (General Santos City) route has not been used due to previous reports of arrests," Mr Lomibao said.
The Tawi-Tawi route passes through Central Mindanao, Pagadian City, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga City, Tawi-Tawi and Tawau in Malaysia, Sungay Nyamok and Nunukan in Indonesia and vice-versa.
The recent arrest of two suspected JI militants in Mindanao has helped uncover the new route, Mr Lomibao said.
At the Jakarta meeting, the Philippine police and the Indonesian National Police (INP) also forged an agreement of understanding aimed at bolstering anti-terrorism efforts in the region.
Under the agreement, both forces agree to share intelligence, coordinate activities against known terrorist groups operating in their respective areas and exchange personnel for training and education.
In his briefing, Mr Lomibao also noted that both Abu Sayyaf and JI continue to receive foreign funding to finance their operations through Islamic organisations and institutions which their foreign principals have established in the Philippines.
He identified the front organisations as the Markazos Shabab Al-Muslim, Hay-Atul Igatha Wat Tanmiyya and the Jamiat Ahlul Hadith Foundation. These organisations were established in the country after Arab missionaries from the International Islamic Relief Organisations visited Mindanao in the early 1990s.
Mohammad Jamal Khalifa, a Saudi Arabian national and brother-in-law of international fugitive Osama bin Laden, was among the Arabs who established the Islamic organisations and foundations.
Through these Muslim organisations, Khalifa was able to extend financial support for military training of the Abu Sayyaf, Mr Lomibao said. Khalifa also facilitated the training of MILF and Abu Sayyaf bandits in Afghanistan in 1992.
Local terrorists in Mindanao are also receiving financial support from their Malaysian backers, Mr Lomibao said. "The (Abu Sayyaf) has been sending key personnel to Malaysia and Saudi Arabia to get financial support."
Mr Lomibao conceded that the Philippines and Indonesia "remain the major arena for terrorism" in Southeast Asia. However, he said, "the overall situation remains manageable".
* Sayyaf, JI getting Mideast support (The Philippine Star, Nov 20)