- The Washington Times - Friday, March 7, 2003

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines The distant sound of a jeep rushing toward town and shouts of "emergency" interrupted a quiet midnight shift for Reina Malonzo at Dr. Jose-Maria Torres Memorial Foundation Hospital in Lamitan, on Basilan island.
Peering down the corridor of the small provincial hospital, the nurse watched as a dozen heavily armed men some with beards and long hair, others baby-faced teens burst in, smashing windows with the butts of their machine guns.
A group of haggard, rain-soaked hostages scrambled in behind them, prodded by a rear guard of rifle-toting men. Among the captives were three Americans missionaries Gracia and Martin Burnham and tourist Guillermo Sobero.
"I knew right away it was the Abu Sayyaf," said Miss Malonzo, 22, recalling radio reports that the Muslim rebels turned kidnappers had taken 13 tourists hostage from a neighboring island on a May evening in 2001.
From positions in the hospital, Abu Sayyaf men traded shots with government troops for more than 18 hours. Then, around midnight, they slipped out of the hospital with their original hostages as well as Miss Malonzo and several other medical workers. Some blame the escape on military incompetence; others believe soldiers were bribed.
Within weeks, the guerrillas killed Mr. Sobero, a father of three young children, taking him deep into the jungle and beheading him. Mr. Burnham, the missionary, was killed by his Abu Sayyaf guards during a rescue operation last June that freed Mrs. Burnham.
In the decade since Abu Sayyaf was established with help from Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network, the group has been responsible for at least 300 murders and more than 1,000 kidnappings, garnering tens of millions of dollars in ransom some of it used for weapons and recruitment, some of it squandered, some of it siphoned off by middlemen.
The group is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. government, and its leaders have been indicted in the United States on kidnapping and murder charges.
Despite constant pursuit by the Armed Forces of the Philippines and its U.S. advisers, several hundred Abu Sayyaf rebels continue to sow terror in the southern Philippines. One Abu Sayyaf leader, Hamsiraji Sali, took credit for Tuesday's airport bombing in Davao city that killed 21 persons, including one American.
[The government said yesterday that a Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebel carrying explosives in a backpack triggered the Davao bombing. Defense spokesman Lt. Col. Danilo Servando identified the suspect as Muntazer Sudang, 23, a resident of Kabacan in the center of the southern Mindanao island, of which Davao is the commercial capital.
[Col. Servando said the MILF rebel was among the dead in the blast, which injured more than 150. "He was the bomb carrier," Agence France-Presse reported Col. Servando as saying, adding that the bomb might have "prematurely exploded." Suicide bombing is almost unheard of in the Philippines, and is not known to have been used by the country's Muslim or communist rebels.
[The 12,500-member MILF, the country's largest separatist group waging a 25-year campaign for an Islamic state in the southern Philippines, has denied any hand in the Davao bombing.]
While police are skeptical of Abu Sayyaf ties to that blast, no one doubts that the string of kidnappings, murders and bombings by the group has tarnished the international image of the Philippines, scaring off billions of dollars in tourism and foreign investment.
"They are not freedom fighters," said Angelo Reyes, the Philippines' defense secretary. "They're bandits, plain and simple. They've even managed to give terrorism a bad name."
The Abu Sayyaf was founded in the early 1990s by Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani, the eldest son of a Muslim man and Christian woman living in a village near Isabela, capital of the island-province of Basilan. Charismatic, passionate and quick to anger, young "Jak" moved comfortably in both cultures, praying in local mosques, attending a high school run by Roman Catholic priests.
In 1981, when he was 18, Jak went to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, to study Islamic jurisprudence with Arab scholars, many of whom espoused a radical view of Islam.
"The first summer Jak came home, he was still wearing jeans, and he brought cassette tapes and videos," his brother Hector Janjalani said in an interview at his prison cell in Manila, where he is charged with kidnapping and murder. "By the second year, he was carrying home thick books on Islam. He began wearing traditional Islamic clothes. He had changed."
In 1987, Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani returned to the Middle East for further studies, this time traveling to Libya, one of seven countries the U.S. government considers a state sponsor of terrorism. Later, he joined the mujahideen opposing the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, befriending and fighting alongside other foreign Muslims, many of whom joined al Qaeda cells around the world.
Janjalani returned home in 1990, a combat veteran and fiery orator who could enthrall students, friends and worshippers at mosques with discourses on the Koran, Islamic movements and jihad (holy war).
"I knew we were in for trouble the first time I heard him preach," said Abdulgani "Gerry" Salapuddin, deputy speaker of the Philippine House of Representatives, who spent 14 years in the hills with another Muslim rebel group. "He espoused a radical, unforgiving brand of Islam that I believe misinterprets the Koran."
By 1991, Janjalani and a few close friends formed a secessionist group, later adopting the name Abu Sayyaf ("Bearer of the Sword") in homage to a legendary Afghan commander.
In May 1992, Janjalani took credit for the killing of an Italian priest in Basilan and owned up to a bombing the previous year that killed two foreign missionaries on a ship moored at Zamboanga City, on the nearby island of Mindanao.
Terrorist groups, even those on poor, remote islands, rarely flourish without money for weapons, recruitment and basic sustenance. Early on, Janjalani and the Abu Sayyaf found a benefactor in Jamal Mohammed Khalifa, a brother-in-law of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Khalifa, a tall, slender, bearded Saudi who was married to one of bin Laden's older sisters, fought alongside his brother-in-law in Afghanistan. In the late 1980s, Khalifa took two Filipinas as wives and set up several businesses in Manila. He also established a Muslim charity in the southern Philippines called the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO). Its stated purpose was to build clinics, mosques, orphanages and schools.
But Philippine military and police intelligence agents say Khalifa used the IIRO and several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) as fronts to bankroll the Abu Sayyaf, buying weapons and ammunition. Bin Laden was the "primary financier of the NGOs and business organizations" set up by Khalifa, said a confidential report by the Special Investigation Group of the Philippine National Police.
Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, the jailed mastermind of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York, also was active in the Philippines and apparently in touch with Khalifa. Reports from Pakistan indicate that Janjalani may have met both men there as early as 1991. Philippine intelligence officials also believe Yousef visited the southern Philippines to share his bomb-making skills with Janjalani and his men.
Foreign hostages weren't the only targets of the Abu Sayyaf. On April 4, 1995, Jak Janjalani and his men joined dozens of heavily armed marauders in a raid on Ipil a predominantly Christian city of 70,000 a short boat ride away from the Abu Sayyaf base in Basilan. That attack left 53 persons dead.
During the mayhem, the rebels looted banks and businesses, carrying off duffel bags stuffed with more than 1 million pesos ($18,350).
"Before the faithful, Janjalani was a teacher, a preacher, a savior," said Glenda Gloria, author of "Under the Crescent Moon: Rebellion in Mindanao."
"Yet he failed to match his rhetoric with deeds," she added. "In the jungles he was lured by quick military successes and easy money. He gave his approval to the kidnapping of Christians. He turned a blind eye to the excesses of his men."
After Janjalani was killed in a December 1998 shootout with police, the Abu Sayyaf splintered into two factions, one led by Janjalani's youngest brother, Khadaffy.
The abduction of the Burnhams and Mr. Sobero was the second high-profile kidnapping by the Abu Sayyaf. Over the Easter holiday in 2000, six armed Abu Sayyaf commandos with AK-47s and rocket launchers raided a Malaysian resort and took 21 hostages eight Europeans, two South Africans, nine Malaysians and two Filipinos.
Like the other Filipino hostages, Miss Malonzo the nurse kidnapped in 2001 from the hospital in Lamitan was forced to convert to Islam, enticed with promises of better treatment and freedom from harassment for her family back home.
Joel Guillo, a 28-year-old hospital worker taken hostage with Miss Malonzo, recalls the day news came over the radio of the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center and the suspected link to Osama bin Laden. "They were shouting in celebration, yelling 'Allah Akbar' [God is Great]," recalled Mr. Guillo, who escaped after seven months in captivity. "They were all very happy about what had happened."
Abu Sayyaf ranks have thinned on Basilan after a six-month joint U.S.-Philippine training exercise last year targeted the group.
Philippine military leaders declared the group all but dead after one commander, Abu Sayaba, was killed last year and many of the other commanders retreated to more remote Jolo island, where the U.S. and Philippine military are hoping to intensify efforts if political concerns about the U.S. deployment are resolved.
But the death of Abdurajak Janjalani certainly didn't lead to the group's demise.
"The Abu Sayyaf fighters know they are capable of intimidating the government," said Julkipli Wadi, director of the Islamic Institute at the University of the Philippines. "With the ransom money, they tasted the fruits of their labor. The death of a few leaders won't cripple them. There will be new recruits, new leaders."

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