Singapore– The “unholy alliance” between several Muslim rebel groups in southernPhilippineshas allowed the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) to use the country as its strategic base.
“Jemaah Islamiah established a foothold in 1994. It now uses thePhilippinesas its strategic base – not only for training purposes but also for planning operations and hiring new recruits as well,” said Dr Rohan Gunaratna, who heads the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research inSingapore.
The JI, which was responsible for theBalibombings in October 2002 and a foiled attempt to attackSingapore’s MRT system, has the ultimate objective of creating an Islamic caliphate inSoutheast Asia.
The Philippine military has expressed concern about the creation of an “unholy alliance” between the JI and Philippine rebel groups such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Abu Sayyaf, a smaller band of rebels specialising in kidnappings.
Late last month, Abu Sayyaf chief Khadaffy Janjalani held a meeting with senior JI leaders in a marshy area on the outskirts of Datu Piang in the southernPhilippines, an MILF stronghold.
A wave of military air strikes on Jan 27 left many dead and homes destroyed but almost all the terrorist leaders got away.
One problem that the military faces in countering the alliance is the ease with which the militants move betweenIndonesiaand thePhilippines.
A former JI member told The Straits Times: “Travelling is not a problem. You can go either directly fromIndonesiato thePhilippinesor enter General Santos city viaMalaysia.”
The preferred route is to head fromBalikpapaninKalimantan, Timur toManadoinSulawesi, then to Sangihe island and, from there, toMindanaovia boat, he added.
* Fears of growing regional terror links (The Straits Times, Feb 7)