Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Volume 2, Number 38               October 27 - November 2,  2002            Quezon City, Philippines

Join the Bulatlat.com mailing list!

Powered by groups.yahoo.com

The MILF on Alleged Links with Al Qaeda-Jemaah Islamiyah:

‘Ours Is A People’s Struggle’

“The probability of (Al Qaeda or Jemaah Islamiyah) influencing the MILF’s leaders is very remote. Our political line is very clear. Our struggle is a people’s struggle and we aim at winning the people to our side, whether Muslims, Christians or Lumads.”


The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has been increasingly on the defensive these days, as authorities both here and abroad try to link the front with Jemaah Islamiyah and Al Qaeda. The key to this link, according to authorities, is 1) the fact that the camps of the MILF had been used as training ground for people who have since been arrested for alleged terrorist activities, and 2) the fact that Fathur Rohman Al-Ghozi, an Indonesian Jemaah Islamiyah operative, confessed to planning and executing the Dec. 30, 2000, bombings in Metro Manila. In his confession to the police, Al-Ghozi said his co-conspirator in the bombings was Muklis Yunos, an alleged MILF official in charge with special operations.

The MILF leadership has strenuously denied the charges. In the following interview, Mohagher Iqbal, the information officer of the MILF, clarified the front’s positions on the allegations that it is a terrorist group.

Philippine authorities, as well as those from other countries such as the US and Singapore, are saying that the links that tie Al Qaeda to the Philippines are mainly through the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), mainly due to the MILF’s training of mujahideens in Afghanistan during the war against the Soviets. They are now saying that the people some MILF people met in Afghanistan, such as self-confessed Jemaah Islamiyah operative Fathur Rohman Al-Ghozi (he supposedly met a certain Muklis Yunos, an official of the MILF, in Afganistan) are using these old links to establish networks in the Philippines.

Granting that this assumption is true, such links are personal and have nothing to do with the MILF as a legitimate revolutionary organization. During the Afghan war, Osama Bin Laden and the US were allied against the Soviets. The US supplied arms to the mujahideens and, directly or indirectly, the US was also responsible for the coming into power of the Taliban when leaders of the Afghan Alliance like Hikmatyar, Sayyaf, Rabbani were no longer cooperating. Mullah Omar Muhammad, the leader of the Taliban, is the father-in-law of Osama Bin Laden. It was only now that Bin Laden is a bad person, because he is not toeing the American line.

Is there a Muklis Yunos within the MILF? He is supposed to be the chief of the Special Operations Group. In his sworn affidavit, Al-Ghozi said Muklis was his contact in the MILF in carrying out the December 2000 bombings and that Muklis was charged with linking up with the other regional mujahideens, particularly those from the Jemaah Islamiyah.

The MILF is a mass-based organization and anybody can claim membership in it. But that does not authorize one to speak or act in behalf of the organization. Muklis Yunos may have been a member before like anyone else. But to be frank with you, there is no Muklis Yunos in the MILF official roster.

On the SOG: Like other similar organizations or especially in established governments, special operation is part of the whole range of operation. But special operation is for a special purpose and exists only for a limited time. However, our special operation is not to kill people or destroy property indiscriminately. It is not in our agenda and we will not do it.

It is highly probable that Muklis Yunos and Al-Ghozi were once associates in Afghanistan. During the period from 1982-1987, the number of Moro students in Pakistan soared to over 500 and many had established links directly with some Afghan mujahideen groups fighting the Russians. They did not coordinate with the MILF or the MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front). The MNLF had an information office in Islamabad and during this period Salamat Hashim was still there.

Is there an official or organizational link between MILF and the Jemaah Islamiyah?

There is no linkage between the MILF and Jemaah Islamiyah, whether official or not. We have links with the group of former Indonesian president Abdurahman Wahid. But this link is more personal between Hashim and Wahid, who were contemporaries in Cairo, Egypt, way back more than three decades ago.

Philippine and western intelligence officials said that Abu Zubaydah, a key Al-Qaeda operative in Southeast Asia now in the custody of the US, had communicated with chairman Hashim. In one of these conversations, the issue of setting up more camps allegedly came up, hence the MILF's formation of Camps Palestine, Vietnam and Hodeibeyah.

I talked to Salamat Hashim about this question and he said he does not know Abu Zubaydah nor did he talk to him over the phone. Palestine is a satellite camp of Boshra Somiorang in Lanao del Sur, while Vietnam and Hodeibeyah were satellites of Camp Abubakar. They were registered with the GRP-MILF ceasefire committees.

Al-Qaeda operatives had supposedly met with some key MILF officials in Southeast Asian countries.

Before, there was no such thing as Jemaah Islamiyah as a “terrorist” organization as it is classified today by the US. At that time anyone can talk to anybody. A “terrorist” can only become a terrorist once he or she starts killing people or destroying buildings indiscriminately. I do not know of any such meeting; there are many Moros in Sabah, many are relatives of MILF officials in Mindanao.

Omar Al-Faruq, a Kuwaiti arrested in Indonesia and who is now in the hands of the US, said in his confession that he, along with another Al Qaeda operative, trained in Camp Abubakar in the mid-‘90s.

From 1995, or perhaps even earlier, up to the first quarter of 2000, Camp Abubakar was open to almost everybody. Senators, congressmen, cabinet members, AFP top military commanders, foreign and local NGOs, media people, Americans, Malaysians, Indonesians, Arabs, Europeans, Japanese, perhaps even “spies”, etc. visited this camp.

I stayed in Camp Abubakar in much of my time and I did not know of any foreign trainer inside or trainees coming from other countries. Of course, there were those, out of curiosity or for higher reason, such as documentation, who visited our frontline positions facing the “enemy” directly. At that time, we had occasional bloody confrontations with combined AFP-Consunji security forces in the eastern part of Camp Abubakar where a logging operation owned by Victor Consunji was ongoing.             

Philippine intelligence officials are also saying that after the Afghan war, the MILF served as a training ground both for local and foreign mujahideens. The MILF sent people to train in Afghanistan and when they come back they trained the local mujahideens. There were also foreign trainers brought into Abubakar, according to the local police.

We only have one military academy, the Abdulrahman Bides Memorial Academy, and it has long been abandoned when we vacated the lower portion of Camp Abubakar in July 2000. Oftentimes, media people visited it and even talked to our military instructors. We did not have any foreign instructor, because we don’t need one.

What do you think of the analysis that Al Qaeda infiltrates local Islamic movements such as the MILF, influence their members and officials and persuade them to carry out anti-Western activities?

The analysis is sound. There is no visa requirement for peoples of the ASEAN countries and for which reason they can travel freely and deal with one another directly.  However, in the case of the MILF, the probability of influencing its leaders is very remote. Our political line is very clear. Our struggle is a people’s struggle and we aim at winning the people to our side, of whether Muslims, Christians or Lumads.

The MILF is not anti-American or European. Our “enemy” is oppression and whoever oppresses us or practices oppression is our enemy and this classification encompasses the confessional divide. Even a Muslim who practices oppression is our enemy. Bulatlat.com

We want to know what you think of this article.