- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 2, 2000

BANGKOK A secret military document links the Muslim separatists holding tourists hostage in the southern Philippines with terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, Osama bin Laden's organization and the Pakistanis who hijacked an Indian Airlines jet last year.
By working with foreign extremists, Philippine Muslim rebels receive "training, logistics, expertise and access to the international terrorist network," according to the military briefing paper, which recently was leaked to Asian media.
Last week, the Islamic extremist group Abu Sayyaf kidnapped 21 persons, including 10 foreign tourists, from a Malaysian resort island and brought them to a stronghold in the southern Philippines, a majority Muslim region of the primarily Roman Catholic country.
Reporters allowed to accompany a doctor who examined the captives yesterday in a cramped bamboo hut on Jolo Island, 600 miles south of Manila, said the hostages were hungry, dehydrated and weak.
They said they had been living mainly on rain water and rice, and pleaded to be released soon, saying their condition was deteriorating.
The hostages include tourists from Germany, France, South Africa, Finland and Lebanon, and resort workers from the Philippines and Malaysia.
Before the kidnapping, the Abu Sayyaf group already was fighting Philippine forces on the southern Philippine island of Basilan, where it is holding at least 27 other hostages.
The secret Philippine military briefing paper, which was leaked to the press, says Abu Sayyaf and other Muslim separatists in the Philippines have close ties with Islamic extremists in the Middle East and Asia.
The Philippine military believes bin Laden is a primary financial backer of Abu Sayyaf, which wants to create a "pure Islamic state" in the southern Philippines. It has murdered Catholic priests and vowed to kill all Americans in the Philippines.
It was also accused of plotting to assassinate the pope during a visit to the Philippines in January 1995. It has been linked to the deaths of more than 200 people in the southern Philippines in the past five years.
According to Philippine military sources, rebels in the south have studied in Afghanistan, where bin Laden is believed to reside.
Abu Sayyaf has vowed not to free the Basilan hostages until Ramzi Yousef, one of the ringleaders of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, is released from a U.S. jail.
Southeast Asian leaders worry that Abu Sayyaf and other Philippine rebels are not only importing foreign materiel but also exporting fundamentalist Islam to Indonesia, Malaysia and the West.
"It's just like everyone catching cold in the same room with central air-conditioning," Philippine Foreign Secretary Domingo Siazon told reporters, referring to the spread of militant Islam in Southeast Asia.
The Philippine rebels give foreign militants "sanctuary and other forms of assistance," the military briefing paper said.
"Like Afghanistan, the southern islands are totally lawless … the perfect place to have 'terror schools,' " said one terrorism researcher in Bangkok who declined to be identified for security reasons.
Yousef, the World Trade Center bomber, reportedly plotted his terrorist acts in the Philippines, where he lived for several years before fleeing in 1995 to Bangkok and then Islamabad, where he was caught by U.S. authorities.
The more than 350 small, Muslim-majority islands in the southern Philippines are geographically isolated and difficult for the state's small army to police. Lax immigration laws make it easy for foreigners to slip in and out.
After decades of conflict, the Philippine army exulted after reaching a 1996 peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front, one of the largest Muslim rebel groups in the south.
But the Philippines were not prepared for the development of Abu Sayyaf, made up primarily of younger fighters who believe the Moro agreement, in which the government promised to develop the southern Philippines, has not benefited the region.
Military sources believe Abu Sayyaf has more than 1,000 fighters.

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