Manila – The Abu Sayyaf has a new recruitment policy: Using money to lure Christians in southern Mindanao to join the terror group. Since July, the Abu Sayyaf has recruited some 100 members, mostly Christian men, to help the group stage future attacks in key areas in Mindanao, according to a Philippine military intelligence report.
The recruits will be used for unspecified "sabotage operations" in places such as Zamboagan City. At least two of the group's leaders wanted by the USgovernment, Abu Sulaiman and Albader Parad, led the recruitment of the men from Zamboanga and the nearby Basilan province.
The recruits were offered between 10,000 and 30,000 pesos, the report said, without specifying if the amounts were one-time or monthly payments.
Predominatly-Christian Zamboanga, the seat of the Philippine military's Southern Command and the venue of ongoing US anti-terrorism exercises, has come under deadly bomb attacks by the Abu Sayyaf in recent years.
Basilan used to be the base for Abu Sayyaf guerrillas before US-backed military offensives three years ago forced them to flee.
Some intelligence officers told The Manila Times that the Christians mentioned in the report had converted to Islam. "The wives of some of the senior Abu Sayyaf leaders are Balik Islam," said one intelligence officer in Camp Aguinaldo.
Balik Islam are former Christians who embraced Islam as their new religion. Military and police intelligence operatives have been keeping an eye on Muslim converts, especially members of the Rajah Solaiman Movement, which has close ties with the Abu Sayyaf.
The Abu Sayyaf has been blamed for many acts of banditry and attacks, including the bombing of an inter-island ferry that killed 116 last year in thePhilippines' worst terrorist attack.
Its leader, Khadaffy Janjalani, who is believed to be hiding in Maguindanao, has been trying to wean the Abu Sayyaf away from banditry and make it more religious-oriented and lethal by seeking bomb-making and religious training for his members, according to government security reports.
In early 2000, the group's strength reached more than 1,000 when its various factions staged several high-profile kidnappings for ransom in Mindanao. But US-backed offensives have whittled it down to more than 400, military officials say.
* Abu Sayyaf recruiting Christians - military (Philippine Daily Inquirer, Sept 22)
* Abu Sayyaf now recruiting Christians for future attacks (The Manila Times, Sept 22)