Manila– Two years ago, it was dismissed as a spent force and viewedas nothing more than a ragtag band of bandits specialising in kidnapping for ransom. These days, however, the Abu Sayyaf has reasserted itself as thePhilippines’ “most formidable enemy”, said The Manila Times.
Apart from its threat to sow terror in thePhilippines during the Holy Week, thereare fears that the Al-Qaeda-linked group is now getting ready to take its war underwater.
Its members have been training in scuba diving to prepare for possible seaborne terror attacks outside the country, the Philippine military said on March 17.
The Abu Sayyaf militants also received at least US$18,500 over the past year from suspected members of the regional terror group Jemaah Islamiah for explosives training, according to a report on the interrogation of Gamal Baharan obtained by The Associated Press.
Baharan, 35, also said that an Abu Sayyaf leader, Khadaffi Janjalani, was alive, contrary to speculation that he was killed in a military air strike.
Baharan is one of three suspects captured and charged last month for bomb attacks that killed eight people and wounded more than 100 on Feb 14 inManilaand two southern cities.
According to the report, Baharan said during questioning that Abu Sayyaf leaders Janjalani and Abu Sulaiman, working with JI, had initiated scuba training for seasoned guerillas to prepare for seaborne attacks.
Last October, Baharan was told to undergo scuba training in south-westernPalawanprovince, the report said.
His training was in preparation for a JI bombing plot on unspecified targets outside thePhilippinesthat would require "underwater operation", the report quoted him as saying.
In an editorial, The Manila Times said “time and time again the Abu Sayyaf has shown its ability to launch terrorist attacks almost at will”.
It attributed the difficulty in defeating the Abu Sayyaf to its “connections” and the dearth of “A-1” information about the group - specific, accurate and up-to-date data on when and where the Abu Sayyaf will next strike.
The intelligence gathered from arrested Abu Sayyaf members were either too vague or stale for the authorities to act on.
“The intelligence community also admits that the Abu Sayyaf is a well-funded organisation, enabling it to recruit and train new members, purchase weapons and supplies and bankroll missions. Its access to the regional arm of the Al-Qaeda, the Jemaah Islamiah, assures the Abu Sayyaf of a powerful patron,” the Times said.
* Abu Sayyaf training for seaborne attacks (The Straits Times, March 18)
* Vigilance in the face of Abu Sayyaf threat (The Manila Times, March 21)