Manila - They were fully armed and wore brown-coloured camouflage outfits during training. For their "graduation exercise", they were tasked with ambushing soldiers. Such insights into the inner workings of the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) and its local affiliate, Abu Sayyaf, at their camps in Mindanao were revealed during the seven-month trial of three men involved in the Valentine's Day bombings in Makati City.
The three men - Gamal Baharam, Angelo Trinidad and Indonesian Rohmat Abdurrohim - were sentenced to death on Oct 28 after the court found them guilty of being behind the Makati bombings. They will die by lethal injection.
During the trial, the court heard that the Abu Sayyaf had found sanctuary on Mt Cararao in Lanao del Sur province. Cararao is said to be under the operational control of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the largest secessionist group in Mindanao. The rebel group, however, has repeatedly denied the existence of any training camp for terrorists in the area.
At the terrorist camps, training in the handling of weapons and explosives and in the laying of landmines were conducted by JI members from Indonesia. The Abu Sayyaf, on the other hand, provided the foot soldiers. The terrorists had eluded pursuing soldiers by keeping their numbers low and by being on the move all the time.
Indoctrination was a key element of the training, said Gappal Bannah Asali, an Abu Sayyaf member who escaped prosecution by turning state witness.
Asali said he and his colleagues "were indoctrinated on the missions that they would be undertaking".
"These missions (bombings) were supposed to take place in order to show the people in Metro Manila the anger of the Muslims against Christians because of the many acts of violence and oppression perpetrated by Christian soldiers against the Muslims," he told the court.
The alleged acts of oppression included "raping of Muslim women and killing of Muslim men".
During training, recruits were required to wear brown-coloured camouflage outfits and were fully armed.
For their "graduation exercise", they were ordered to ambush soldiers in Jolo town in Sulu province in 2004, said Asali.
* Convicts confirm Abu Sayyaf sanctuary (Philippine Daily Inquirer, Oct 31)