- The Washington Times - Monday, September 24, 2001

MANILA Americans' newfound anxiety about terrorism is echoed as far away as Southeast Asia, where groups like the Abu Sayyaf guerrillas in southern Philippines have long been linked to Osama bin Laden.
The crew of self-styled Islamic "freedom fighters" that still holds 17 hostages, including 42-year-old American missionary Martin Burnham, is dismissed by the Philippine government as little more than a kidnap-for-ransom gang. But the guerrillas' links with bin Laden's international terror network make them potentially much more dangerous than that.
"It would take just one phone call from bin Laden" to stir up Abu Sayyaf, Brig. Gen. Edilberto Adan, spokesman for Armed Forces of the Philippines, told reporters shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington.
Gen. Adan said the link between bin Laden and Abu Sayyaf goes back nearly a decade when the group's Libya-educated founder trained in Afghanistan.
For decades, students from the Philippines, as well as Indonesia and Pakistan, have been studying at Islamic religious schools overseas, where many fall under the spell of hard-line Islamic teachers.
Abu Sayyaf's daring hostage-taking has plagued successive Philippine governments, tarring the country with an image of lawlessness that has chased away both tourists and foreign investment.
The Philippines, however, doesn't stand alone. A small but persistent Islamic resistance movement also has been roiling southern Thailand for a decade.
Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim state, and Malaysia, with the second-largest Muslim population in East Asia, also are battling radical groups within their own borders.
While coordination among the various extremist groups in Asia is limited, many of their members have trained together in Afghanistan, where they fought the decade-long Soviet occupation that ended in 1989. A global recruitment and support network organized by Afghan resistance fighters later came under the control of bin Laden.
"We have so many graduates here of the Afghan war and those who fought with the Taliban," Philippines House Speaker Jose De Venecia said as he announced an initiative to coordinate anti-terrorist policies with Indonesia and Malaysia.
The combination of indigenous Muslim populations and tourist-friendly visa requirements has made Southeast Asian nations convenient staging grounds for terrorists.
Officials in both Malaysia and the Philippines say at least four of the suspects from the U.S. attacks entered their countries in the past year.
"As far as we are concerned, at that particular time they were bona fide travelers, but we are aware of their presence," Norian Mai, Malaysia's federal police chief, told reporters.
The police official declined to comment on reports that bin Laden had used banks in Malaysia to fund his operations in Southeast Asia.
But reports have persisted for some time that bin Laden moved money to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, another secessionist group in Mindanao, the large island in southern Philippines.
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed warned earlier this year that Muslim militants were bent on establishing a union of Islamic states to include Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.
When Malaysian police in June arrested nine Islamic terrorists believed to be involved in a series of attacks, the national police chief said some of the members had fought in Afghanistan previously.
"In Malaysia, the Muslim majority is relatively prosperous," said one Western diplomat. "But in the Philippines, the Muslims are a minority; they're poor and can be easily swayed by Islamic fundamentalists."

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