- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 23, 2005

MANILA — A terror suspect said yesterday that the southern Philippines has become a major training ground for regional terror group Jemaah Islamiyah — graduating 23 bomb specialists just days ago — and a refuge for Indonesians involved in major attacks, including the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings.

Rohmat, arrested last week on suspicion of being a Jemaah Islamiyah operative in the Philippines, said he had trained new recruits of the al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group and that its leaders were plotting more bombings and kidnappings.

Details provided by the 26-year-old Indonesian martial arts specialist showed a close but compartmentalized relationship between two of the most dangerous groups in Southeast Asia and partly explained why the threat of terrorism has persisted despite years of crackdown.

Rohmat, who goes by one name, said 23 Indonesian recruits had just finished jungle training — including lessons in explosives, weapons, combat and Islam — when he left a Jemaah Islamiyah camp called Jabal Qubah in southern Mindanao island shortly before being arrested at a military checkpoint.

“There were 23 men who have just finished the courses. I heard they would be sent back home and others would stay behind to train a new batch,” a handcuffed Rohmat said during a 30-minute interview at a military safe house in the presence of officials.

Training of Jemaah Islamiyah recruits in Mindanao started in the late 1990s, he said.

He said he traveled to the southern Philippines as a trainee with other Indonesians in January 2000 and two years later became an instructor on Islam and martial arts — but not bomb-making, as claimed by military officials. He said he taught Indonesians and local Abu Sayyaf recruits in Mindanao’s Maguindanao province and nearby Jolo island.

Around 2002, Rohmat, who assumed several local aliases, including Zaki, said he was designated by Zulkifli, then the Indonesian head of the Jemaah Islamiyah in the Philippines, as a contact man for dealings with the Abu Sayyaf, including training its recruits and staying close to its leaders, Khaddafy Janjalani and Abu Sulaiman, most of the time.

Rohmat said he joined Jemaah Islamiyah knowing it fostered “pure Islamic teachings” but that he learned too late that the group advocated a type of violence with which he disagreed because it victimized innocent people.

“I couldn’t do anything anymore because I was already there,” he said. “I had no money, and I didn’t know how to escape because there was no way out. I could go out, but I knew that would mean my arrest.”

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