Manila - The Philippines has rejected allegations that the suspected masterminds behind the Oct 1 Bali bombings – Azahari Husin and Noordin Mohamed Top - had undergone military training in guerrilla camps run by separatist Muslim rebels on its territory.
Malaysian Azahari, the "Demolition Man", is reported to have received bomb-making training in Mindanao in 1999 and advanced training in Afghanistanin 2000. His wide expertise in bomb-making includes remote-controlled explosives.
Compatriot Noordin, also a Malaysian, is suspected of talking militants into becoming suicide bombers, using skills he picked up during stints in the southernPhilippines, Indonesian police said.
The Associated Press also quoted an unnamed senior Philippine military official as saying that the local intelligence community is looking into the possibility that theBali bombers trained in the Philippines and sourced their explosives here.
"The Philippines is also considered one of the sources of raw explosive materials, like fertiliser, in the region," the official said.
However, national police chief director-general Arturo Lomibao said the Philippine armed forces had overrun all major Muslim militant camps in the southern region of Mindanao in recent years, forcing the rebels to move their bases elsewhere.
"With the dismantling of enemy camps in Mindanao, they now move from place to place. There are no established training camps like what they are talking about," AFP quoted Mr Lomibao as saying.
In an editorial, The Philippine Star said no one should be surprised over reports that Azahari and Noordin, both key members of the Jemaah Islamiah (JI), received training in the ways of terror in Mindanao. It noted that the training camps in Mindanao were set up under the aegis of the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The latter, despite being involved in peace talks with the Philippine government, is believed to have maintained its close ties with both JI and the Abu Sayyaf terror group.
"The MILF leadership insists that only its renegades continue to collaborate with JI. Persistent reports, however, indicate that the MILF leadership is either lying or clueless about the activities of its members … Until this issue is cleared up, there can never be genuine peace with the MILF. And unless this issue is resolved,Mindanao will continue to be a training centre for terrorists."
* Bali bombers did not train in guerilla camps here: Philippines (Antara, Oct 5)
* Bali bombing brains trained in Mindanao (The Philippine Star, Oct 4)
* Center for terrorist training (The Philippine Star, Oct 4)