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U.S. Troops to Philippines

Aired January 27, 2002 - 07:49   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: The Pentagon is sending U.S. troops to the Philippines, to help train the Filipino army to fight against the Abu Sayyef. While that group is the main target of the battle against terrorism there, recent arrests in the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore are shifting the focus somewhat.

CNN's Maria Ressa takes a close look at the al Qaeda links in the Philippines.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARIA RESSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Before the U.S. bombs fell on Afghanistan, even before the September 11 attacks, the Philippines was fighting its own war against Muslim militants linked to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, a group known as the Abu Sayyef.

Named as a terrorist organization by the U.S in 1996, proof of sorts from Afghanistan after the fall of Kabul. Inside an abandoned house, investigators found an al Qaeda recruitment booklet listing the Abu Sayyef.

GLORIA MACAPAGAL-ARROYO, PRESIDENT, PHILIPPINES: So we've been terrorism in southwestern Philippines for a long time now. And when September 11 happened and the response of September 11 happened, then is that I felt that now we have allies.

RESSA: Convicted terrorist linked to al Qaeda have lived here, like Mohammed Sadik Odey (ph), who helped in the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. And another close associate of Osama bin Laden, Ramsey Yousef, the mastermind of the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993.

Terrorism here finds its roots in more than 1,000 Filipino Muslims who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan. After the war, most returned and rejoined two existing Muslim separatist groups, the MNLF, the Moral National Liberation Front, which signed a peace agreement in 1996, and the MILF, the Moral Islamic Liberation Front, now the largest separatist group here.

But some didn't, like Abu Rajef Janjumani (ph), who founded the Abu Sayyef in the early '90s naming it after a Afghan fighter. In the training camps in Peshawar, Pakistani investigators believe Janjumani (ph) met Ramsey Yousef, who trained many of the Abu Sayyef's first members. RODOLFO MENDOZA, COL., POLICE INTELLIGENCE: This allegations of training the Abu Sayyef there on (INAUDIBLE) appeared to be confirmed. But Iran, the (INAUDIBLE) documents are recovered.

RESSA: With the Abu Sayyef, Yousef plotted to assassinate the Pope and blow up U.S. airliners flying from Asia.

But their most audacious flock would be ignored by U.S. authorities until six years later, when parts of it came to life. In 1995, police here warned the FBI of a plan to hijack commercial planes and ram them into government buildings and commercial towers in San Francisco, Chicago, and New York City.

RIGOBERTO TIGLAO, PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESMAN: The targets they listed were CIA headquarters, Pentagon, TransAmerica, Sears and the World Trade Center.

RESSA: Largely because of evidence discovered in the Philippine, Ramsey Yousef would be arrested and convicted. Meantime, the Abu Sayyef began to make its presence felt. In its first four years, police here say the Abu Sayyef carried out more than 100 terrorist crimes, all say authorities, funded by al Qaeda.

AVELINO RAZON, FMR. POLICE INTELLIGENCE OFR.: We were able to establish that all along, bin Laden has been directly supporting the Abu Sayyef through Kalifa (ph), his brother-in-law.

RESSA: Bin Laden's brother-in-law, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa (ph) lived in the Philippines from about 1987 to 1993. During that time, he set up more than a dozen businesses and charities, which authorities say funneled money, not only to the Abu Sayyef, but also to the MILF. It was the MILF who met with bin Laden when he visited the Philippines.

MARITES VITUG, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER AUTHOR: We got the first confirmation that Osama bin Laden was in the Mindanau (ph) in the late 1980s, but the guy whom we interviewed, he's a Muslim cleric, says that he was -- he only met with the Moral Islamic Liberation Front.

RESSA: Police here say the MILF would go on to train Muslim fighters from other countries in the region. Last week, a tip from Singapore led to the arrest of this 30-year-old Indonesian. Authorities here say he is an explosives trainer for the MILF and is a key leader in Jamaislamia (ph), an al Qaeda linked terrorist cell, targeting American interests in southeast Asia.

Based on information from him, police arrested three more men, one a local MILF commander. In their possession, one ton of explosives and a mini arsenal authorities here say were slated for targets in the region.

Maria Ressa, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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