THE country’s security managers should seriously watch out for the revival of an Islamist extremist group linked with the Al Qaeda network that is believed to have been involved in the 2004 Super Ferry 14 bombing that killed 116 people and the 2005 Valentine’s Day where 16 people were slain.
Retired national police intelligence chief Rodolfo “Boogie” Mendoza said it was not far-fetched for jihadists to establish cells in Luzon because they have already done so in the past and a number of uncaptured extremists are still at large.
“There are possibilities they might re-establish,” said Mendoza, who was one of the key personalities in the arrest of international terrorist Ramzi Yousef and the discovery of the Bojinka plot which is considered to be the blueprint for the 2001 terror attacks in the United States.
Mendoza recalled that the police, under the command of then Superintendent Greg Pimentel, were able to uncover in Anda, Pangasinan a training camp of the Rajah Solaiman Movement, which the United States considers a terrorist organization along with the Abu Sayyaf.
Meanwhile in Los Angeles, another Filipino jihadist and his American guru face life in prison after they were found guilty of plotting to aid jihadists overseas and to kill US soldiers.
A jury convicted Sohiel Omar Kabir, 36, a naturalized US citizen, and Filipino Ralph Deleon, 25, at the conclusion of a six-week trial that comes as the United States leads air strikes in Syria and Iraq against Islamic militants.
Deleon was specifically found guilty of conspiring to provide material support to Al-Qaeda, to receive military-type training from the group and to commit murder, kidnapping, or maiming overseas.
“This case shows that the appeal of extremist ideologies can reach from Afghanistan to America,” said United States Attorney Stephanie Yonekura after the trial in Riverside County, east of Los Angeles.
This demonstrated “the clear need for continued vigilance in rooting out homegrown violent extremists who plot terrorist acts both here and abroad.”
Two co-conspirators—Miguel Alejandro Santana Vidriales and Arifeen David Gojali—had already pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.
The trial heard evidence that Kabir traveled to Afghanistan in 2012 and encouraged Santana and Deleon to come with him, saying they would all join “the students”—Taliban militants—and “the professors”—Al-Qaeda.
An undercover FBI agent contacted Santana and Deleon. The latter said he wanted to go abroad to wage “violent jihad,” while Santana said he wanted to be a sniper.
In September 2012, Deleon and Santana recruited Gojali to accompany them to Afghanistan.
The three undertook preliminary training in southern California at firearms and paintball facilities.
The trio were arrested in November that year as they prepared to drive south to Mexico, en route to Afghanistan.
FBI Los Angeles agent Bill Lewis said: “The threat posed to America’s security by individuals within the United States who support terrorists is very real.
“This case demonstrates the process by which individuals living in the United States were groomed and radicalized toward an extremist ideology and, ultimately, planned the murder of American and coalition forces.” Judge Virginia A. Phillips will hand down sentences on February 23.
According to the US Treasury Department, the RSM “received training, funds, and operational assistance from [Abu Sayyaf] and Jemaah Islamiyah.”
The terror group began receiving funds from “private Saudi sources that channeled funds through charitable non-government organizations in the Philippines” starting in 2004.
“Between 2002 and late 2005, Saudi financiers and at least one Saudi-based Filipino financier also contributed funds to RSM for its training camps and planned terror operations,” the US treasury department said.
The RSM was founded by Hilarion del Rosario Santos, who changed his name to Ahmad Santos after he converted to Islam while working in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 1991, Mendoza said.
Mendoza said the neutralization of the RSM came a year after Redondo Cain Dellosa, another member of the group, was arrested and confessed to planting a bomb on the Super Ferry vessel in 2004.
Mendoza said the RSM was not only able to put a terror cell in Pangasinan, but also in Tarlac and Pampanga where security forces raided their hideout and arrested another member, Khalil Trinidad.
“Those two areas were used as their training ground,” Mendoza said, adding however that Santos is now detained at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City where television news footage showed Muslim detainees praying before a flag of the Islamic State.
Moreover, Mendoza said the Santos’ brother and second-in-command Dawud, alias Tyrone del Rosario Santos, who was arrested along with his brother Ahmad in 2005, is still at large after he jumped bail in 2005.
“The movement was then planning to expand further in Northern Luzon but failed following their neutralization,” Mendoza said.
Over the past several years, former RSM members continued to be arrested, including Ruben “Omar” Pestano Lavilla Jr. who was arrested in Bahrain in July 2008.
Lavilla is included in the list of suspected terrorists under the Sanctions List of the United Nations Security Council 1267 Committee, also known as the al-Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions Committee.
But Mendoza also expressed concern at persistent reports that the Abu Sayyaf has forged an operational alliance with the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, which is known to be harboring Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan.
Marwan is believed to be the mastermind behind a series of recent bomb attacks in Mindanao and has US$5 million bounty on his head.
The military had earlier claimed that Marwan was killed in a military air strike in Jolo in 2012, but was later discovered to still be alive and hiding out with the BIFF.
Marwan is believed to be the head of the Kumpulun Mujahidin Malaysia terror group and is a key leader of the Jemaah Islamiyah which had trained Abu Sayyaf jihadists in bomb-making and other terrorist activities.
Marwan is also believed to have trained a young Filipino jihadist, identified only as Malik, who is believed to be responsible for the bombing at the plaza in front of the General Santos City Hall on Sept. 16.
Zulkifli and Malik are also believed to be linked with the Khalifa Islamiah Mindanao, a group that serves as an umbrella organization of the Jemaah Islamiyah, the Abu Sayyaf and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters. KIM has recently adopted the black flag of the Islamic State, a source said.
Last year, former military chief Gen. Emmanuel Bautista confirmed that rogue elements from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Abu Sayyaf had joined KIM. The group was tagged as behind the July 27, 2013 bombing in Cagayan de Oro City which killed eight people and injured several others. - With AFP