Tentacles of terror: Al Qaeda's Southeast Asian network

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Author: Zachary Abuza
Date: Dec. 2002
From: Contemporary Southeast Asia(Vol. 24, Issue 3)
Publisher: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS)
Document Type: Article
Length: 16,846 words

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The terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 on the United States shocked the world and resulted in a global campaign against terrorist groups. Southeast Asian states, long considered the "Islamic periphery", owing to their moderate Islamic stance, pluralism and secularism, were suddenly forced to confront a small but potent terrorist threat in their midst, culminating in the 12 October 2002 attack on a Balinese resort. Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda had entered the region beginning in the early to mid-1990s, establishing independent cells and assisting and liaising with indigenous Islamic insurgencies that hitherto were believed to have solely domestic agendas. This article analyses the origins, linkages, and network that Al Qaeda established in Southeast Asia. Though the extent of Islamic radicalism and terrorist activity is small by comparison to the Middle East or South Asia, it is still of great concern to the governments in Southeast Asia.

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The horrors of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States and the ensuing war on terrorism galvanized the global community to come to terms with the reality of international terrorism. While the focus of the war on terrorism has been on Afghanistan and Pakistan, one of the key arenas is now Southeast Asia. This has caught both states and individuals in that region by surprise. Though most states in Southeast Asia have a Muslim population, ranging from 5 per cent in the Philippines to 85 per cent in Indonesia, the fact is that the region has always been considered the Islamic periphery. Muslims in Southeast Asia have long been characterized as secular, tolerant, modernist, and development-oriented. Moreover, many people within and outside Southeast Asia had believed that the violence and terrorism, which is a daily reality in the Middle East, was anathema to Southeast Asia.

The disclosure of the extent to which Al Qaeda cells were established, and linkages between militant Muslim organizations in Southeast Asia to Al Qaeda were made, has shocked Southeast Asian governments. Al Qaeda had slowly penetrated the region for more than a decade beginning in 1991, co-opting individuals and groups, establishing independent cells, and finding common cause with local militants for four main reasons.

First, whereas there have long been militant Muslim groups who have been fighting for their own homeland in the southern Philippines, Aceh, and to a degree in southern Thailand and Myanmar, these groups were seen to have completely domestic agendas and little interest in linking-up with international Muslim organizations. Al Qaeda emerged in Southeast Asia at a time when state-sponsorship of terrorism, notably by Libya, was waning. Moreover, Al Qaeda was able to build on its personal relationships with veterans of the Mujaheddin in Afghanistan. The leadership of almost every militant Islamic group in Southeast Asia, from the Kumpulan Mujaheddin Malaysia, Jemaah Islamiah (JI), the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and Laskar Jihad, had fought with the Mujaheddin. By linking their domestic struggles with an international network, the leaders of these groups were able to pool and share resources, conduct joint training, assist each other in weapons and explosives procurement, and engage in money-laundering a nd financial transfers. By working internationally, domestic-oriented groups were better able to achieve their goals.

Secondly, although the majority of the populations in Southeast Asian societies are secular and tolerant, radical Islam is growing for a variety of reasons. These include economic dispossession, the lack of political freedom, the spread of Wahhabism and Salafi Islam, the failure of secular education, and an increased number of religious students studying in Middle Eastern and South Asian madrasah (Islamic schools). Although radical Islamicists are a distinct minority in Southeast Asia, in many cases they have shaped the agenda, and secular nationalists have not always stood up to them.

Thirdly, Southeast Asian states have been what might be termed "countries of convenience" for terrorists, with tourist-friendly policies and minimal visa requirements, generally lax financial oversights, well-established informal remittance systems for overseas workers, porous borders, often weak central government control, endemic government corruption, and a vast supply of illicit arms.

Finally, Southeast Asia's multi-ethnic, tolerant, and secular societies have actually attracted Al Qaeda to the region. As states focused on other threats, they had dropped their guard in relation to the potential terrorist risk. Although the Philippines raised the spectre of international terrorists operating in the region in the mid-1990s, its cries fell on deaf ears. States saw terrorism as a problem, but not a problem they considered as a direct threat to themselves.

This article has three main goals. First, it seeks to provide a brief introduction to Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda organization and explain how it differs from other hierarchical terrorist organizations. Secondly, the article seeks to briefly analyse why Al Qaeda turned to Southeast Asia. The major part of the article analyses the Al Qaeda network as it has developed from the early 1990s when the Philippines was simply used as a base of operations for Al Qaeda attacks on the United States, to the present, when a complex, multi-layered regional network has been established. The author warns the reader that it is a complex network, and that there is considerable overlap between individuals and organizations; many individuals wear multiple "hats". The article does not address all the responses of the individual states. Nor does it explain in detail the changed political and social context in Southeast Asia that has allowed groups such as Al Qaeda to take root.

The Al Qaeda Organization

The roots of Al Qaeda are found in the Maktab al Khidmat lil-Mujaheddin al-Arab (MaK), the Afghan Bureau, established between 1982 and 1984. The MaK was responsible for co-ordinating the recruitment of "Arab volunteers" to the Mujaheddin; bin Laden became the organization's principle fund-raiser. Bin Laden established Al Qaeda, literally the "Base" in 1988, with help from the head of Saudi Arabian intelligence in order to organize Arab recruitment for the Mujaheddin. In this context, he has always been involved in "international" networking.

The central leadership of Al Qaeda is small, comprising only some thirty individuals; its strength is derived from its international network of about twenty-four constituent groups, with cells that spread across some sixty countries. Al Qaeda is thought to have between 5,000 and 12,000 members. (1) As John Arquilla has noted, Al Qaeda was developed along "diverse, dispersed nodes who share a set of ideas and interests and who are arrayed to act in a fully internetted 'all-channel' manner". (2) He observes further:

Ideally, there is no central leadership, command, or headquarters--no precise heart or head that can be targetted. The network as a whole (but not necessarily each node) has little to no hierarchy, and there may be multiple leaders. Decision-making and operations are decentralized, allowing for local initiative and autonomy. Thus, the design may appear acephalous (headless), and at other times polycephalous (hydra-headed). (3)

Bin Laden has several lieutenants, beneath which is the Shura Majlis, or the consultative council. Four specialized committees--military, religious-legal, finance, and media--report to bin Laden and the Shura Majlis. "Vertically, Al-Qaeda is organized with Bin Laden, the emir-general, at the top, followed by other Al-Qaeda leaders and leaders of the constituent groups. Horizontally, it is integrated with 24 constituent groups. The vertical integration is formal, the horizontal integration, informal." (4) Al Qaeda is highly compartmentalized, where "groups share the principles of the networked organization--relatively flat hierarchies, decentralization and delegation of decision-making authority and loose lateral ties among dispersed groups and individuals". (5)

Al Qaeda is thought to control some eighty front companies operating in about fifty countries. For the most part, these front companies have been commercial failures. However, Al Qaeda is known to provide only start-up costs for cells and operations, and expects cells to become financially self-sustaining. Al Qaeda also relies on charities. (6)

Bin Laden established some forty training camps in Afghanistan, and estimates of the number who trained at these camps range widely from 15,000 to a high of 70,000. Approximately 6,000 became foot-soldiers in the "international brigade" that fought alongside the Taliban against the U.S. and Northern Alliance forces in late 2001. Promising trainees were selected for advanced training in establishing cells and combat, and were brought directly into the Al Qaeda organizational structure to become operational agents, while others were sent home as sleeper agents who were responsible for establishing independent cells. Most trainees simply returned to their homes to continue their own operations.

The trainees looked to bin Laden and other senior Al Qaeda leaders for guidance, "blessing", handing, and help in establishing contacts with other cells. Though most cells maintain operational autonomy, they are part of the overarching network. As Richard Schultz has noted: "They [Al Qaeda cells] are not micro-managed, but that does not mean they are not connected." (7) The links are personal, rarely structured and amorphous. And as Bruce Hoffman of the Rand Corporation has observed: "Al Qaeda works on multiple levels, which is what makes it such a formidable opponent. Sometimes it operates top-down, with orders coming from the CEO, and sometimes it is a venture-capitalist operation, from the bottom up, when the terrorists come to ask for finance from bin Laden." (8)

In addition to establishing independent cells, Al Qaeda was brilliant in its co-optation of other groups, those with a narrow domestic agenda, and in bringing them into Al Qaeda's structure. In short, bin Laden tried to "align with local militant groups with country-specific grievances to increase his reach and influence". (9) The groups are an amalgam of organizations: "They have not been subsumed into Al Qaeda", but "[t]hey work with Al Qaeda", giving the organization "a degree of rootedness in their countries". (10) Associates, who pledge bayat, a form of allegiance to bin Laden, share intelligence, money, equipment, and recruitment. (11) Although, independently, the cells are too small to make an impact, their strength lies in the network itself. Al Qaeda is able to graft itself onto radical groups in a region like Southeast Asia or establish new cells from scratch; and increasingly, these cells are using the overall network to co-ordinate their activities.

Al Qaeda Turns to Southeast Asia

Southeast Asian states are havens for a small number of terrorists, and have been penetrated by Al Qaeda operatives for three primary reasons: the Afghan connection to Middle Eastern extremists; the increasing grievances of Muslims within Southeast Asian states based on socioeconomic and political reasons; and, finally, Southeast Asian states have been considered "countries of convenience" by international terrorists.

Up to a thousand Southeast Asian Muslims fought with the Mujaheddin in the 1980s, and there has been an Afghan connection to most of the radical Islamic groups in the region. Beginning in 1982, the Pakistani intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), began to "recruit radical Muslims from around the world to come to Pakistan and fight with the Afghan Mujaheddin" against Soviet forces. (12) Between 1982 and 1992, some 35,000 Muslim radicals from thirty-five countries joined the Mujaheddin, with 17,000 from Saudi Arabia alone. The recruitment did not stop with the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. Undeniably, combat in Afghanistan was the formative experience for Southeast Asian jihadis. In Indonesia, there was the "Group of 272" of returned veterans, and the key leaders of radical groups in the region are all veterans of the Mujaheddin: Jaffar Umar Thalib, Hambali, Mohammed Iqbal Rahman, Nik Aziz Nik Adli, Abdurajak Janjalani, and others. One cannot overstate how important the Afghan connec tion has been: it was the basis for Al Qaeda's network around the world.

More extensive and influential were, in fact, the networks of Islamic schools, or madrasah, that were established in the 1980s, to train refugees and young Pakistanis, whose secular school system began to crumble. The madrasah were the ideological frontline against the Soviets, the primary socialization vehicle and recruitment organ for jihad, and later for the Taliban. The products of madrasah have been radical Muslims who believe that their life's mission is jihad: "They leave the schools with only a rudimentary knowledge of the world, but a fanatical belief in the supremacy of Islam and their responsibility to fight and ensure its spread." (13) By 2000, there were some 6,000 madrasah in Pakistan, home to more than 600,000 students. (14) During the 1980s, up to 100,000 foreigners attended madrasah in Pakistan where they came into contact with the jihad and established transnational networks.

Most Southeast Asians returned from Pakistan madrasah to set about committing themselves to running jihad at home, recruiting followers, in an attempt to create Islamic states governed by Shariah (Islamic) law. The Mujaheddin who returned to Southeast Asia established a network of madrasah as their recruitment vehicle. Since the Mujaheddin, tens of thousands of Southeast Asian Muslims have travelled to the Middle East to study in Islamic universities, including those in Egypt, Syria, Yemen, and Pakistan. Thousands of Southeast Asians have also studied in the Pakistani madrasah that gave rise to the radical Taliban regime. (15) These madrasah tend to teach the very strict and orthodox Wahhabi brand of Islam, which is a very literal interpretation of the Koran. For no other reason, the financial power of Saudi Arabia has ensured that its predominant Islamic sect has been able to propagate itself around the world, including countries in Southeast Asia, which have always had a very tolerant and un-doctrinaire int erpretation of Islam. Much of the international funding for Islamic schools (madrasah and pesentren) and new mosque construction have come from Saudi charities which advocate Wahhabism. The Pakistani madrasah have also blended rigid Wahhabism with Deobandism, an authoritarian and pan-Islamic sect that emerged in the sub-continent in the nineteenth century.

Madrasah have not been just a Middle Eastern phenomenon. In their pursuit of the creation of Islamic states, many Southeast Asian jihadis established Islamic schools to indoctrinate, propagate, and recruit. Many of the madrasah and pesentren in Southeast Asia, which were set up since the late 1980s, have advocated a stricter, more intolerant brand of Islam, and have condemned the secular nation-state. The vast majority of Southeast Asian Muslims do not attend madrasah and pesentren; instead, they are products of secular education. Yet, more children are being educated in Islamic schools because of the failure of some states to provide adequate secular schooling, and there has also been a surge in interest in Arabic studies.

The second reason that Al Qaeda looked to Southeast Asia is related to the first. The Islamic resurgence in the region has occurred because of long-standing disputes with secular governments. Many of the Islamic movements in Southeast Asia have legitimate grievances, whether they have been repressed, clamour for autonomy, or simply desire greater religious freedom. Economically speaking, Muslims are generally less well off in those Southeast Asian states with such communities. (16) Indeed, Malaysia had to implement a reverse-affirmative action programme in the early 1970s, following race riots in 1969, to give the Malay/Muslim majority a greater share of the nation's wealth. (17) There are considerable socio-economic inequalities that exist across Southeast Asia between the different religious communities, and these were exacerbated by the Asian economic crisis of 1997-98.

The growth of Islamic extremism around the world, since the Iranian revolution in 1979, has less to do with theology and more to do with the failure of the domestic political economies of respective Muslim countries. Increasing gaps between the rich and poor, inequitable distribution of wealth, poverty, a lack of economic diversity, unemployment, corruption, and the lack of a viable political alternative, have all given rise to Islamic extremism. People literally have become so desperate that they have nowhere to turn to except extremist religious politics. The Iranian revolution, which took place in the most secular state of the Middle East, was clearly a catalyst. The most secular governments in the Muslim world are Malaysia and Indonesia, which had been two of the fastest growing economies from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s. Once their economies slowed and became mired in the Asian economic crisis, which gave rise to reformasi (reformation) and democratic movements, Islamic extremism was able to take hold and enter the mainstream, whereas before it was on the fringes of society.

In addition to having a receptive population and being a large source of recruits, many of the countries in Southeast Asia are also "countries of convenience" that have become attractive bases of operations for terrorist cells. Each country has its own "comparative advantage" in the eyes of terrorists.

First, several police forces and governments in Southeast Asia are plagued by corruption. Thus, terrorists are able to operate and plan attacks with little concern for their own security. Moreover, despite large intelligence and internal security apparatuses in many of the countries, there does not seem to be much understanding of their neighbours and a dearth of technical and analytical capabilities. "We lack the infrastructure", complained one Philippine intelligence official to the author. "We have no computerized immigration or tax databases. It is easy for foreigners to marry Filipinas and change their names." Many of the security agencies are simply over-extended; they cannot keep up with international terrorists, not to mention domestic insurgent groups.

Secondly, the importance of tourism to Southeast Asian economies has resulted in lax immigration procedures and easy access visas. The borders are also very porous, making it easy for terrorists to launder their identifies.

Thirdly, there are considerable financial linkages between Southeast Asia and the Middle East to facilitate the thriving trade between the two regions. Southeast Asia has a business-friendly environment, where the establishment of shell or front companies is very simple to achieve. Three countries in the region--the Philippines, Indonesia, and Myanmar--are on the OECD's (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) Financial Action Task Force's blacklist of money-laundering states.

The nexus between terrorism and transnational crime also cannot be overlooked. Because of Thailand's place in the international drug trade, there is a culture of money-laundering and corruption. According to the Thai Government, some Bt100 billion in drug money is laundered annually through financial institutions in Thailand.

Fourthly, there is a proliferation of weapons in Southeast Asia. Every state, with the exception of Laos and Brunei, produces small arms and ammunition.(18) They are also home to several leading arms brokers, who exploit legal loopholes in the sale of weapons from legal sources (government-owned or contracted firms).

Finally, especially in the case of Indonesia and the southern Philippines, there is weak, if not complete lack of, central government control. There are parts of the region that are all but lawless, or under the control of Islamic militants, giving members of Al Qaeda safe haven. The fact that Jakarta was unaware of a terrorist camp in Poso, or could not stop 3,000 Laskar Jihad militants from going to fight a jihad in Maluku is indicative of the tenuous control it has over the provinces. In the Philippines, the MILF controls roughly 10 per cent of Mindanao. Even in Malaysia, which has a strong state, the Jemaah Islamiah was able to operate a training camp, undetected.

The Philippines

It may seem strange to think of Islamic-based terrorism having ties with the devoutly Catholic Philippines. Yet, according to U.S. officials, "The Philippines have become a major operational hub [of Al Qaeda], and it's a serious concern." (19) Some of the worst terrorist plots in recent memory were planned in the Philippines, including Ramzi Yousef's plot to shoot down eleven U.S. airliners in "48 hours of tenor", and every major terrorist plot by Al Qaeda against the United States has had some ties with the Philippines. Links to international terrorist organizations are a fairly new phenomenon in the Philippines, but Islamic resistance to control by Manila is not.

The MILF's Afghan Connection

The MILF is currently the leading Muslim rebel movement fighting the Philippine Government. The MILF fields between 12,000 and 15,000 combatants. The Philippine Government continues to enter into negotiations with the movement. Nonetheless, whereas the MILF may have legitimate national liberation aspirations, it has forged linkages with international terrorist groups, notably Al Qaeda, for financial support, especially after funding from Libya waned substantially in the mid-1990s.

The roots of MILF contact with Al Qaeda date back to the period of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, when the MILF sent an estimated 700 Filipino Muslims to undergo military training and join the Mujaheddin. (20) According to a classified Philippine intelligence report, the MILF dispatched the trainees in three waves. (21) The first group of 600 was sent to Pakistan in January 1980. Most travelled under travel documents and visas acquired after receiving false employment with a Middle East firm. This has remained the MILF's modus operandi as the Philippines has an estimated 7 million of its people as Overseas Foreign Workers (OFWs). The rest travelled as either Islamic scholars or pilgrims to Mecca. The first group was met in Pakistan by Salamat Hashim before being transferred to camps in Afghanistan. Of the 600, only 360 underwent the year-long military training; 180 of these actually joined the Mujaheddin. (22) A second but smaller batch was dispatched. The third batch of trainees was sent in groups of fi ve, using student visas or OFW contracts as cover.

The MILF saw the training in Afghanistan as very important in the development of the movement. A Philippine intelligence report notes that: "Usually those selected were on field commander status, with leadership potential, with armed followers and had money to finance the trip." This last point is important. Throughout the Soviet period, there was little indication that the MILF was receiving large amounts of external funding to support its volunteer and training activities in Afghanistan. The steady flow of external funding began in the early 1990s. Osama bin Laden, a scion of the largest construction magnate in Saudi Arabia, who had joined the Mujaheddin, established "the Base"-Al Qaeda--in 1988, to facilitate Muslims from around the world to join the jihad in Afghanistan and to forge an international network.

Jamal Mohammed Khalifa and the Origins of the Southeast Asian Al Qaeda Connection

Bin Laden already had some ties with the Philippines. In 1988, he dispatched his brother-in-law Mohammed Jammal Khalifa (23) to the Philippines to recruit fighters for the war in Afghanistan. Khalifa was already engaged in radical Muslim politics and was a very senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood in his native Lebanon.

Bin Laden clearly saw the potential of the Philippines and he was alarmed at the Moro National Liberation Front's (MNLF's) ongoing peace negotiations with the Philippine Government. In his eyes, the MNLF was selling out and abandoning the goal of establishing an Islamic state. Khalifa travelled throughout the Moro region to recruit and facilitate the jihadis' travels to Pakistan. He left the Philippines in either 1989 or 1990, but he returned in 1991 to establish a permanent Al Qaeda network. (24)

At the time, he was officially the regional director for the Saudi-based charity, the Islamic International Relief Organization (IIRO), responsible not just for projects in the Philippines but also in Indonesia, Thailand, and Taiwan. (25) Later, the IIRO decided to have separate directors for each of the countries, and Khalifa became the IIRO head for the Philippines. The IIRO claims to have begun charitable work in the Philippines in 1988, (26) but according to documents registered at the Philippine Securities Exchange Commission, the IIRO was legally incorporated in the Philippines on 20 September 1991 with offices in Makati and in several cities in Mindanao. Khalifa was listed as the IIRO's president and chairman of the board of trustees. (27)

Khalifa set out to establish a thorough network. According to interviews with Philippine intelligence officials, Khalifa developed his network very slowly and carefully. In their eyes, he did a meticulous and professional job. Although Philippine authorities had some concerns about Khalifa, the fact is that they had no idea of the extent of his operation. (28) He was well respected in the local community, and included members of the Philippine elite to sit on his board of directors. He was able to get the Saudi Arabian Embassy to assist his charities.

The MILF-Al Qaeda Connection

Established in the Philippines, Khalifa began to provide covert assistance to the MILF in two ways--financially, and through training. In addition, he provided overt assistance by funding development projects in zones under MILF control, or to areas that constituted core constituencies of MILF supporters. Khalifa began to covertly channel money to the MILF, starting in the early 1990s. In a 1998 interview, Al Haj Murad, the MILF Vice-Chairman for Military Affairs, admitted that bin Laden and Khalifa provided "help and assistance" to MILF cadres who volunteered in the 1980s to help the Taliban struggle against the Soviet-backed Afghan regime (29). On 7 February 1999, Salamat Hashim admitted in a BBC interview to receiving aid from bin Laden, although again stating that it was humanitarian aid for mosque construction and social welfare. This new source of assistance was imperative to the MILF, as its traditional supporter, Libya, was reducing military assistance to both the MILF and the MNLF as it was trying to broker a peace agreement with the Philippine Government. Libya, hoping to get sanctions lifted, imposed after the Lockerbie bombing (where its involvement had been proven), used its leverage to get the MNLF to sign an autonomy accord with the government. To that end, Libya had to reduce the amount of armaments entering the Philippines. However, there is ample evidence that the Libyans are still "in the game". A military intelligence officer has stated that many of the MILE weapons the military continues to seize are of Libyan origin. (30) However, Libya has had to be careful: it cannot be seen as a supporter and a key negotiator in the conflict while still arming one faction.

The MILF denies all links to Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. Although the MILE admits having a relationship with Khalifa, it argues that Khalifa was simply a philanthropist engaged in social work. An MILE spokesman has asserted that "Khalifa was cleared by the U.S. government. [It] found he had no links to bin Laden." (31) When asked to respond to the 1998 comments by Al Haj Murad, the MILF's Vice-Chairman of Military Affairs, that the MILE did indeed receive aid and funding from bin Laden's Al Qaeda network, the MILE spokesman said that the statement "was taken out of context". (32)

The second type of assistance that the MILE has received from Al Qaeda has been in the form of training, both in Mindanao and abroad. For example, Al Haj Murad admitted to receiving "substantial help and assistance from bin Laden, including the training of his fighters in bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan". In September 2001, a Philippine senator asserted that bin Laden had attempted to recruit some seventy MILE fighters, who had applied for employment in a Saudi company allegedly owned by bin Laden. (33) This fits in with the MILF exfiltrating its fighters out of the Philippines into Pakistani and Afghan training camps.

More common, however, has been the infiltration of Middle Eastern trainers into MILE camps. Beginning in the mid-1990s, Pakistan began to clamp down on foreign jihadis entering the country. To that end, a steady flow of trainers began to arrive in the Philippines to train MILF and Abu Sayyaf guerillas. Perhaps the most important Al Qaeda trainer was al Mughiri al Gaza'iri, a commander of an Al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan and a very close associate of Abu Zubaydah. Al Gaza'iri came to the Philippines in 1995 and taught in the MILF's Camp Abu Bakar. The MILE denies that there has ever been foreign trainers, and asserts that this is government propaganda to tarnish it as a legitimate freedom-fighting force, as against a terrorist organization. (34) Several military intelligence personnel have told the author that they have found individuals wearing turbans in MILE camps that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (APP) has overrun, and men with very thick beards, uncharacteristic of Filipinos. In mid-2000, the APP f ound the bodies of several Middle Eastern and Pakistani "trainers" at an MILE base they captured. An Arab Mujaheddin fighter was monitored visiting the MILE's Camp Abu Bakar from May to June 2000. (35) In addition to foreign trainers, APP personnel have recovered considerable amounts of documentation, such as visas and passports. Following the Philippine Government's capture of the main MILE base, Camp Abu Bakar, in 2001, intelligence personnel discovered a cantonment within the camp specifically for foreign trainers and trainees. More recently, the MILE established a camp near Cotabato City for foreign trainers. Philippine military intelligence believes that the MILE has played host to several hundred trainers from the Middle East. (36)

Al Qaeda has placed a large number of instructors in MILE camps since the mid-1990s, not just to assist the MILE, but also for other jihadis in the region, such as the Malaysian Kumpulan Mujaheddin, Jemaah Islamiah, and Laskar Jundullah. With their secure base areas, geographic proximity, and porous borders, it has been far easier and more cost-effective for Al Qaeda to bring its trainers to the region, than bringing hundreds of Southeast Asian militants to Pakistan and Afghanistan. A senior MILE cadre, Sulaiman, who himself had trained in Afghanistan, has become an important trainer in MILE camps and is a key liaison between the MILF and foreign militants, including Al Qaeda operatives in Southeast Asia who train in MILE camps. JI members not only trained at MILE camps, but were also active fund-raisers for the MILE. Of the thirty-six people detained in an anti-terrorist sweep in Singapore in 2002, four were not found to be JI members but active supporters and fund-raisers for the MILE.

The role of foreign trainers was manifest in another way--a suicide attack on 14 October 1997. At the time, morale in the MILF was quite low. Its sister organization, the MNLF, had just signed an autonomy agreement with the Philippine Government and the MILF had suffered a series of battlefield defeats. In order to raise morale and demonstrate how committed they were to the Islamic cause, MILF soldiers together with two foreign trainers--an Egyptian, Mohammed Gharib Ibrahimi Sayed Ahmed, and a Saudi Arabian, Al Maki Ragab--carried out a suicide attack on the headquarters of the AFP's VI Infantry near Cotabato City, killing six. (37) The MILF denied it was involved in the attack. AFP officials admitted that the suicide attack did have the desired effect and that afterwards the MILF's morale went up dramatically.

On 1 August 2000, there was a bomb attack on the Jakarta residence of the Philippine Ambassador to Indonesia. This bombing cum assassination attempt was seen by many analysts as a "thank you note" to the MILF. The bombing was carried out by an Indonesian JI operative, Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, who had trained JI personnel in bomb-making at MILF camps, and who, with Muklis Yunos, the head of the MILF's special operations division, had detonated a series of bombs in Manila in December 2000. There are also growing linkages to extremist Muslim groups in Indonesia. Indonesian passports have been found at a Mindanao camp overrun by Philippine forces, and other Indonesian extremists were trained in the Philippines by the MILF. One military intelligence officer told the author that most likely the training of Indonesians by the MILF was not conducted in their main base area of Camp Abu Bakar but in one of their smaller and more remote bases on Tawi-Tawi. (38)

The links between the MILF and Al Qaeda are well established. There is ample evidence that during the 1990s the MILF received funding and training from Al Qaeda operatives. For the most part, this money came through the Al Qaeda network established by Jamal Mohammed Khalifa, in particular the IIRO. The linkages were both ideological and personal. The MILF, in bin Laden's eyes, was worthy of funding. The relationship between the MILF and Al Qaeda was significant, and Philippine intelligence intercepted regular telephone calls between Abu Zubaydah, a senior Al Qaeda operations officer, now in U.S. custody, and Salamat Hashim, Yusof Alongon (the head of the MILF Finance Committee) and Abdu Nasser Nooh (the MILF's liaison officer in Manila). (39)

The Abu Sayyaf Group and the Afghan Connection

Of greater public interest than the MILF is the small but very violent Abu Sayyaf. The origins of the Abu Sayyaf can be traced to Afghanistan. In the early 1980s, between 300 and 500 Moro fundamentalists arrived in Peshawar, Pakistan, to serve with the Mujaheddin. One of them, Ustadz Abdurajak Janjalani, emerged as their leader. (40) Janjalani was the son of a local ulama. (41) A fiery Islamic orator, he had attended Islamic universities in Libya and Saudi Arabia before joining the Mujaheddin and fighting the Soviets for several years. Philippine National Police (PNP) intelligence documents indicate that Janjalani's studies in Syria and Libya were financed by Khalifa. (42)

In Peshawar, Janjalani befriended Osama bin Laden. Janjalani and his younger brother Khaddaffy Janjalani received training in the late 1980s and into the 1990s at a training camp near Khost, Afghanistan, that was run by a scholar of Islam, Abdur Rab Rasul Sayyaf, whose belief in the strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam found him favour with many wealthy Saudis, including Osama bin Laden.

Janjalani was committed to waging a jihad back in his native Philippines to create a pure Islamic state in the Moro islands based on Salafi Wahhabism. Following the Soviet Union's withdrawal from Afghanistan, Janjalani began making frequent trips between his home in Basilan and the Peshawar-Afghan border region recruiting supporters. Ten leading MNLF officials joined Janjalani, including Ustadz Wahab Akbar and Abdul Ashmad. When Osama bin Laden wanted to expand his Al Qaeda network, he turned to Janjalani to establish a cell in Southeast Asia. According to Simon Reeve, bin Laden was looking to expand his global network and was looking for new cells to support; Janjalani was looking for money to expand his movement; and, Ramzi Yousef was looking for a new mission. "It all came together" in Peshawar in 1991. (43) PNP intelligence documents suggest that it was Ramzi Yousef who had encouraged the formation of the Abu Sayyaf group to serve as his contact and support group in the Philippines. At the time, Ramzi You sef, the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, was teaching at the Khost camp. Yousef and Janjalani struck up a close friendship in early 1991. (44) Yousef travelled with Janjalani to the Philippines from December 1991 to May 1992 at bin Laden's request, where he trained Abu Sayyaf group (ASG) members in bomb-making in their camp on Basilan island. When Yousef was introduced to Janjalani's assistant and a leader of the Abu Sayyaf, Edwin Angeles, (45) he was introduced as an "emissary from bin Laden", and referred to as "the Chemist", owing to his proficiency in bomb-making.

In 1991, the ASG received some P12 million in grants from foreign sources, mainly from Al Qaeda, but also from Libya. (46) On 29 January 1992, the ASG received some P160,000 from Khalifa. The ASG began to receive large deliveries of weapons from Victor Blout, a Tajik arms dealer who was later linked to both the Taliban regime and Al Qaeda. (47)

Very quickly, the ASG made its mark. It began its terrorist attacks in the Philippines in 1991 when it killed two American evangelists in a grenade blast in Zamboanga city. The ASG attacked Ipil in April 1995, and in February 1997 assassinated a Catholic bishop. Between 1991 and 1996, the ASG was responsible for sixty-seven terrorist attacks, more than half of which were indiscriminate bombings. All led to the death of 58 people, with another 398 injured.

Through his sermons and notoriety following a series of kidnappings and massacres, other gangs of Moro brigands in the Sulu islands began to accept Janjalani as their chief. (48) Abu Sayyaf grew in strength when it began receiving more Al Qaeda funding.

The Bojinka Plot

Although the Abu Sayyaf's scope primarily focused on their domestic grievances, they had linkages to the broader AL Qaeda network. As mentioned above, while in Khost, Janjalani came into contact with Ramzi Yousef, who had moved to the Philippines in mid-1994 following the December 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Using the Philippines as his base of operations, Yousef planned a series of spectacular terrorist plots. The Bojinka plots included attempts to bomb eleven U.S. airliners and to assassinate the Pope, who visited the Philippines in early 1995. Philippine police believed that Yousef relied on Abu Sayyaf contacts and intended to recruit Abu Sayyaf operatives to help carry out his plan. Although there is no direct evidence linking Abu Sayyaf to these failed plots, the Abu Sayyaf claimed credit for the June 1995 bombing of a Tokyo-bound Philippine Airlines flight, which Philippine police believe was a dry-run for Yousef's plan to down the eleven U.S. airliners.

On the run from the law for his role in the World Trade Center bombings, Yousef fled to Pakistan, and then travelled to the Philippines via Malaysia. He spent a short period of time in the southern island of Basilan where he trained approximately twenty Abu Sayyaf militants in the art of bomb-making. At this point, the Philippine authorities had no idea that one of America's most wanted men was on their territory. They began to increase surveillance of the ASG in June 1994, after a series of bombs went off in Zamboanga, attributed to the ASG, and which killed more than seventy people. The first tip-off that there were connections to international terrorist groups was that a leading suspect was carrying a letter claiming responsibility for the bombings, signed by the Al Harakat Al Islamiah, the same group that had claimed responsibility for the 1993 attacks on the World Trade Center. The suspect detained, Abdul Asmad, was believed to be the international liaison officer of the ASG. (49) Yet, they were still un aware of Yousef's presence in the country. The police began to increase surveillance of foreign nationals from the Middle East and to scrutinize phone records. In September 1994 in Zamboanga, as a result of increased surveillance, six ASG members were arrested and a cache of weapons was seized. Interrogation of the suspects directed the police to Manila, where they began td increase surveillance on the IIRO.

The Ramzi Yousef Cell

The Ramzi Yousef terrorist cell in Manila centred around Khalifa, Ramzi Yousef, and two key individuals, and approximately fifteen others with limited knowledge of the operation. Everyone in the cell had very specific functions, and in many cases, once that function was completed, they left the country (50) Perhaps the most important person in the cell was Khalid Sheik Mohammad, also known as Salem Ali, who came to the Philippines in early 1994 and posed as a Qatari plywood exporter. Mohammad was thought to be a major operational planner for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) also named him as a key planner of the 11 September 2001 attacks. Within Al Qaeda, he is known as "the Brain", owing to his operational knowledge and key role in the planning of Al Qaeda attacks.

The second most important individual was Wali Khan Amin Shah, a close associate of Osama bin Laden and Ramzi Yousef Bin Laden spoke highly of Wali Khan, referring to him as the "Lion", but had "no comment" as to whether the latter worked for him. (51) He had previously worked for the IIRO in Peshawar, Pakistan, and was carrying IIRO identity documents when arrested. (52) Wali Khan travelled extensively to the Philippines, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Thailand. Abu Omar admits to knowing Wali Khan in the Philippines as early as 1993. Wali Khan was associated with a Khalifa-run company in Malaysia. Intelligence reports make clear that they believed he was in overall charge of financial logistics for the Yousef cell.

Bojinka Unfolds

On 10 December 1994, Philippine Airlines 747-200 Flight 434, carrying 273 passengers and 20 crew, en route from Cebu to Tokyo, was forced to make an emergency landing after a bomb went off in the cabin, killing a Japanese businessman. This bombing, though claimed to be the work of the ASG, was a dry-run to test Yousef's plan to bomb eleven U.S. airliners in "48 hours of terror". (53) Yousef planted the bomb during the trip's first leg from Manila to Cebu where he disembarked. This bomb was Yousef's trademark: a small nitro-glycerine bomb set off by a Casio watch. His plan was that five individuals, including himself, were all to depart from different Asian cities, each placing a timed bomb on a flight during its first leg of a trans-Pacific flight. They would ten transfer to anoter flight to place a second bomb. The bombs were to detonate simultaneously over the Pacific. (54)

Yousef's Al Qaeda cell was initially broken up by accident, and ten by good police work. (55) The planning and scope of the Yousef cell was staggering. Bin Laden proved that he could establish an autonomous cell impervious to detection, which could plan and execute deadly attacks.

Despite the links between the ASG and Al Qaeda, Yousef really did not trust the ASG or think it capable enough to carry out serious terrorist acts. He used his own men, all flown in from the Middle East. Yousef and Wali Khan were willing to train members of the ASG, but they did not rely on tern to the degree that observers have indicated. At most, members of the ASG provided logistical support and assisted Yousef and Wali Khan in exfiltrating the country. Thus, the Bush Administration's assertions of the ASG's connection to Al Qaeda is rather tenuous.

Finally, it seems that by 1996, bin Laden had lessened his interest in the Philippines, determined instead to take his jihad to the Holy Land, from where he would drive out both the Americans and their secular puppet regimes. Bin Laden's operation had moved to Khartoum, Sudan, and, after 1996, to Afghanistan, where lie became intent on creating an international network and a business empire to fund it. Cells continued to be developed in the Philippines and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, but the region became secondary to Al Qaeda.


The Ramzi Yousef case was always portrayed as a Philippine problem, but this is a naive proposition. The cell leaders made extensive use of the wider Southeast Asian region and, in particular, Malaysia. Malaysia was an alternative base of operations, a transit point, and an important place to establish front companies. Yousef and Wali Khan both fled the Philippines to Malaysia for a reason: they hoped to rely on an existing Al Qaeda network to protect them and facilitate their further travels. In January 2002, the FBI said--tough later it retracted--that Malaysia was a key springboard state for Al Qaeda operations, including the 11 September attacks on the United States.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has repeatedly said that there are no Al Qaeda cells in Malaysia, although that is belied by the number of arrests by Malaysian authorities during 2002 of local affiliates of Al Qaeda. In 1998-99, top aides to two of the most senior Algerian terrorists, Antar Zouabri and Hassan Hattab, moved to Malaysia. (56) By virtue of being a predominantly Muslim country, it is relatively easy for Muslim radicals to fit into Malaysian society. As an Islamic banking and financial centre, not to mention having been one of the world's hottest economies during the 1980s and 1990s, Malaysia was a natural place to establish front companies from the Middle East. There are also significant movements of peoples between the Middle East and Malaysia.

Most alarming was the fact that on 5 January 2000 there was a major meeting in Malaysia of key bin Laden lieutenants (including Tawfiq bin Atash), top suspects in the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen on 12 October 2000, (57) two of the 11 September hijackers, Khalid al-Mindhar and Nawaq (Salem) al-Hazmi; and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a close associate of Mohammed Atta. The FBI described Tawfiq as: "The intermediary between bin Laden himself and the [USS Cole] attack planners."

For many years, Malaysian authorities publicly downplayed the threat posed by radical Islamists. Much of the reason for this is that the Malaysian Government has always portrayed Malaysia as a progressive, modern, and tolerant Muslim state. Therefore, any talk of Islamic radicalism and/or terrorism emanating from the country was seen by the government as an attempt to brand Malaysia (and all Muslims) as extremists--a way for the West to hold Malaysia back, so it was argued by the government. The fact is, since the early 1990s, Al Qaeda has found Malaysia to be a convenient base of operations. Moreover, it has been able to graft onto a small but growing community of Islamic radicals.

Establishing Roots

In 1988, when Jamal Mohammed Khalifa first came to Southeast Asia, he had arrived under the cover of being the IIRO's regional director. The organization subsequently decided to have individual country directors, and Khalifa took over as the head of operations in the Philippines. In 1994, Khalifa was forced out of the Philippines, and in 2000 the IIRO was also forced to shut down its Philippine office. This was a blow to the Al Qaeda network in Southeast Asia. Khalifa had spent years establishing a regional network. In the mid-1990s, there seemed to be a lull in Al Qaeda operations in Southeast Asia, but in the late-1990s, Al Qaeda appointed Ahmad Fauzi, also known as Abdul al Hakim, to co-ordinate Al Qaeda operations in Southeast Asia. Fauzi based his operations in Malaysia, while another Al Qaeda operative, Omar Al-Faruq, was first dispatched to the Philippines and then to Indonesia in 2000. In a familiar pattern, Fauzi set about establishing independent Al Qaeda cells, while at the same time grafting onto existing radical movements and fringe groups. Malaysia has been one of the banking centres utilized by Al Qaeda. Operationally and logistically, Malaysia is very important to the network.

The KMM and Terrorist Linkages

The main Malaysian opposition party, Parti Islam seMalaysia (PAS), denies that it has any links to terrorist organizations, and there is no evidence that there is an institutional or official relationship to Al Qaeda, or any other international terrorist organization. The late PAS president, Fadzil Mohd Noor, admitted that PAS had established ties with Islamic regimes in the Middle East, including Sudan, Iran, and Iraq "in the name of Islamic Brotherhood". (58) However, PAS has covert linkages through an underground and extremist faction that has been linked to the Kumpulan Mujaheddin Malaysia (KMM). The KMM advocates jihad and it has passed edicts that American soldiers must be killed because they had repeatedly oppressed Islamic countries. (59)

The KMM was founded on 12 October 1995 by Zainon Ismail. (60) This militant cell has clear links to Al Qaeda. By the end of 2001, twenty-three KMM members had been detained under Malaysia's Internal Security Act (ISA). Several are senior party functionaries or provincial religious leaders of PAS. In early 2002, two additional KMM members were detained, bringing the total to twenty-five. (61) The KMM's goals are not limited to just turning Malaysia into an Islamic state. The KMM has a pan-Islamic agenda for Southeast Asia, and it has talked about reviving the notion of a single Islamic state comprising Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, the southern Philippines, and southern Thailand.


Like the Malaysian Government, the Indonesian Government has repeatedly denied that international terrorist groups, like Al Qaeda, operate in the country. Yet, evidence keeps surfacing that Indonesia has been an important Al Qaeda base-of-operations and source for recruits. Both the United States and Indonesia's neighbours have become frustrated with Jakarta's intransigence and unwillingness to arrest suspected militants, or even freeze their assets. The largest Muslim country in the world, Indonesia has experienced a surge in Islamic fundamentalist movements that grew out of the political and economic turmoil which rocked the country in 1997-98. There has been a fundamental breakdown in law and order, as democratic institutions remain weak. The country's transition to democracy has, moreover, fundamentally altered the political role of the military, stripping it of its dwi fungsi, or dual function.

Al Qaeda has taken advantage of Indonesia's political instability, and has looked at the country as a new frontier for operations. To that end, in June 2000, two top bin Laden lieutenants, Ayman al-Zawahiri and the late Mohammed Atef, were dispatched to Indonesia and travelled to the strife-torn Maluku Islands and the province with an active secessionist movement, Aceh. (62) According to a leaked Indonesian intelligence report: "Both of them were impressed by the lack of security, the support and extent of the Muslim population" and clearly saw Indonesia as an important new base of operations. The intelligence report concluded: "This visit was part of a wider strategy of shifting the base of Osama bin Laden's terrorist operations from the subcontinent to Southeast Asia." (63)

Like the other countries in Southeast Asia, there is clearly some degree of penetration by Al Qaeda in Indonesia. There is, however, debate as to the extent of that penetration. Clearly, Indonesia is fertile recruiting ground for Al Qaeda. However, Harold Crouch has argued that concern over Al Qaeda's penetration in Indonesia is overstated. While he has acknowledged that many of the radical groups in Indonesia would probably have received money from Al Qaeda, he does not believe that the money has "decisively influenced their behaviour". He qualified this further by stating that "it is hard to believe that Indonesian radical Islamic organizations need[s] such outside assistance". (64) To date, the Indonesian Government claims not to have found any money from any of the individuals, companies, or charities that the United States has listed as having contacts with terrorist organizations. (65)

Yet, money is only one thing that a terrorist network relies on. It needs recruits and the freedom to operate and plan. Most of all, it needs to expand its links so as to have regional and global connectivity. As investigations around the world into Al Qaeda continue, Indonesia is coming under increasing criticism for its foot-dragging. For example, although large portions of the Jemaah Islamiah cells in Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines have been broken up and their leaders arrested, there have been no concurrent actions by Indonesia, and suspects wanted by Malaysia and Singapore remain at large in Indonesia, many of them operating freely.

Moreover, radical Islamic groups have proliferated in Indonesia since 1998. Though not all have Al Qaeda ties, some do and there is always the potential of linkages. Darul Islam, whose goal is to establish an Islamic state governed by Shariah, has some fourteen factions. Darul Islam has maintained ties with Al Qaeda for some time, including "military collaboration". These links were formed in the 1980s when Darul Islam members volunteered to fight in Afghanistan. Al Chaidar, one of the faction heads has admitted to receiving 1.2 billion rupiah (US$243,000) from Al Qaeda: "Yes, we've gotten funding and assistance from the bin Laden group since we went helping Afghanistan in the 1980s." (66) "The relationship between Darul Islam and Osama bin Laden is just undeniable," Chaidar continued, though qualifying his statement that only some factions had a "special relationship".

However, little is known about the Darul Islam (DI) movement; it is an illegal organization. The relationship between the fourteen factions of DI is not known, nor is its leadership structure. If any faction can make a claim to be the DI movement's natural heir, then it is probably Abu Bakar Bashir's Majelis Mujaheddin Indonesia, established in Jogyakarta in 2000, and which is itself a large umbrella organization for some smaller radical groups, including the Islamic Youth Movement (GPI), the Defenders of Islam (EPI), the Indonesian Committee for Solidarity of the Islamic World (KISDI), the Anti-Zionist Movement (GAZA), the Indonesian Muslim Students Action Front (KAMMI), Laskar Jundullah, and the Laskar Mujaheddin.

The Laskar Jihad

The Laskar Jihad, led by Umar Jafar Thalib, was founded in January 2 000. Shortly after its founding, it mobilized a small army to wage a jihad in the Maluku Islands. Arguing that there was an international campaign to create a Christian republic in the heart of Indonesia, Thalib, in May 2000, sent several hundred fighters to the Malukus, armed with machetes and crude weapons, "so that they [Muslims] could feel safe in their own country". (67) The influx of the Laskar Jihad paramilitary tipped the balance in the Malukus in favour of the Muslims, (68) and shortly thereafter Christians were ethnically cleansed from Ternate, the north Maluku capital. In all, some 9,000 people died in the Maluku communal conflict.

That conflict served to attract radical Islamicists from around the Muslim world. For example, seven Afghans arrived in Ambon on 7 July 2000 and were spirited away by Laskar Jihad forces. They joined some 200 other Afghan, Pakistani, and Malay radicals. According to the DI's Al Chaidar, the Laskar Jihad "maintains contact with the international Mujaheddin network, including Osama bin Laden's group .... Wherever a jihad is in force, this network provides money and weapons and all tools needed f or jihad, and they mobilize fighters to go to the jihad area. This is exactly what is happening in the Malukus. Osama bin Laden is one of those who has sent money and weapons to jihad fighters in the Malukus." Abu Abdul Aziz and another bin Laden lieutenant were dispatched to Ambon at the height of the Laskar Jihad's jihad.

In the immediate aftermath of the 11 September attacks, the Indonesian Government put inordinate pressure on the Laskar Jihad not to take advantage of the situation by mobilizing its supporters for a jihad against the United States. The Indonesian military increased its presence in the Maluku Islands where, as already mentioned, the Laskar Jihad supported the sectarian violence there. Laskar Jihad leader, Thalib, went to great pains to distance himself from bin Laden and Al Qaeda, although he had never done so before. In his words: "Laskar Jihad does not have ties with Al Qaeda or any other organizations that are associated with Osama bin Laden or any form or part of his network. Laskar Jihad distances itself from Osama bin Laden and his followers." (69) Thalib has also asserted that bin Laden is "very empty about the knowledge of religion". (70)

Yet, Thalib has acknowledged that the Laskar Jihad has maintained links with Malaysia's KMM, and he has also co-ordinated his operations in Indonesia with Abu Bakar Bashir. Indeed, the Laskar Jihad attends, and is a member of, Bashir's umbrella organization, the Mujaheddin Council of Indonesia. Although Thalib was arrested in April 2002, his organization remains intact and the remainder of the Laskar Jihad's leadership remains free.

Al Qaeda Finds a Home

New ties between Indonesian radical groups and Al Qaeda are being uncovered at an alarming rate, and to the Indonesian Government's credit, it has been very helpful when dealing with foreign nationals who are wanted abroad. For example, on 11 January 2002, Indonesian authorities, at America's insistence, deported without a trial a Pakistani and Egyptian national, Hafiz Mohammed Saad Iqbal, to Egypt where he was wanted in connection with terrorist activities. (71) On 5 June 2002, the Indonesian police arrested another Al Qaeda suspect at the request of the United States -- Mahmoud bin Ahmad Assegaf, also known as Omar Al-Faruq. Al-Faruq, a Kuwaiti in his early thirties, was a permanent resident in Indonesia. Labelled an Al Qaeda "financier", he ran a small Islamic charity office in Jakarta where he was an active fund-raiser. After being recruited into Al Qaeda, Al-Faruq was trained in Afghan camps for three years, beginning in 1992. In 1995, he, together with al Mughiri al Gaza'iri, an Al Qaeda camp commander, was sent by Abu Zubaydah to the Philippines. (72) There they trained MILF and Jemaah Islamiah militants at the MILF's Camp Abu Bakar. Al-Faruq is thought to have been one of Al Qaeda's key trainers at the MILF camp. In 1998-99, Al-Faruq was sent to Indonesia to take advantage of the power vacuum and breakdown of central government authority, to establish Al Qaeda cells. By this time, he was Al Qaeda's senior ranking official in Indonesia, and one of the top Al Qaeda commanders in all of Southeast Asia. In Indonesia, Al-Faruq worked very closely with Jemaah Islamiah and other locally affiliated Al Qaeda cells.

Beginning in mid-1999, Al-Faruq organized a series of bombings across Indonesia, that were carried out by joint Jemaah Islamiah and Al Qaeda operatives. The attacks culminated in the Christmas 2000 bombings in which eighteen people were killed and more than a hundred injured in a series of bomb attacks on churches across the archipelago. In June 2000, Al-Faruq served as the host/guide for Al Qaeda's second and third in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri and the late Mohammed Atef, during their trip to Aceh and the Malukus. Al-Faruq has admitted that he also plotted to assassinate Megawati Soekarnoputri on two occasions, in 1999 when she was the leading Indonesian presidential candidate, and in 2000 when she was Vice-President.

Al-Faruq became a close associate of a senior Indonesian ji operative, Agus Dwikarna. Dwikarna was also a senior official of the Majelis Mujaheddin of Indonesia (MMI) and the head of the Laskar Jundullah, a paramilitary group based in Sulawesi that had led sectarian conflicts against Christians, beginning in 1999. Additionally, Dwikarna was the regional head of a Saudi Arabian charity, the al Haramain Foundation, which is a major conduit of Al Qaeda funding in Southeast Asia. AlFaruq lived near Agus Dwikarna in Makassar (outside Ujung Pandangi) in south Sulawesi, and was the key backer of Dwikarna's Laskar Jundullah.

Following the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States, Al-Faruq planned a series of terrorist attacks on U.S. targets across Southeast Asia. He planned a seaborne suicide attack on U.S. naval vessels which were in Surabaya in May 2002 for joint training operations. He recruited a Somali Al Qaeda operative to lead the attack, but was unable to recruit enough personnel to carry it out. (73) According to the CIA, Al-Faruq was, before his arrest, also instructed by two senior Al Qaeda officials, Ibn al-Sheik al Libi and Abu Zubaydah, to carry out a series of truck bombings on U.S. embassies in Southeast Asia, on or around the anniversary of the 11 September attacks. (74) However, before he could carry out these attacks, Al-Faruq was arrested and turned over to the Americans. He is currently detained at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. AI-Faruq had come to American and Indonesian intelligence officials' attention in early 2002 with the arrests of Abu Zubaydah, and JI leader in the Philippines, Fathur R ohman al-Ghozi.

The Jemaah Islamiah Network

Between 9 December 2001 and August 2002, some twenty-two people in Malaysia, thirty-six in Singapore, and nine in the Philippines were arrested as part of an Al Qaeda network -- the Jemaah Islamiah -- that spread across four Southeast Asian countries. Further arrests were made in the wake of the Bali attack on 12 October 2002, in which nearly 190 people were killed. The JI is a perfect example of how Al Qaeda has penetrated the region, and why any one country cannot by itself deal with international terrorism. The JI, though it has a regional agenda, is an important cog in the Al Qaeda network, and was probably being enlarged and strengthened before 11 September.

Roots of the Jemaah Islamiah

The origins of the JI are found in Indonesia, dating back to the 1960s when radical cleric Abu Bakar Bashir established a pirate radio station that advocated the imposition of Shariah law. (75) In 1972, Bashir and Abdullah Sungkar, a fellow cleric, established an Islamic boarding school in Solo, Al Mukmin. The school, which opened with thirty students, grew rapidly and in 1976 it moved to a four-hectare compound outside the city; it now has 1,900 students, with plans to expand. The school continued to attract more pupils, one of whom was Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, who like many other graduates, went on to study at Egypt's Al Azhar University, or in Pakistani or Saudi Arabian madrasah. (76) The school taught a hardline and literal interpretation of Islam based on Salafi Wahhabism and the philosophies of the nineteenth century Islamic cleric Mohammed Abdu Rahid Rida. On 19 November 1978, Bashir and Sungkar were arrested and sentenced to nine years imprisonment for violating a 1963 subversion law. A second court up held the conviction but lessened the sentence to four years, and they were released in 1982. In 1985, the Supreme Court overturned the Appeals Court's verdict and re-imposed the original nine-year sentence; both individuals immediately fled to Malaysia. After a short period, their pesentren reopened.

Bashir and Sungkar found a safe haven in Malaysia where they lived and preached openly for many years, and built up a large following of radical Indonesians who had fled the Soeharto regime. The preachers lived in a small town on the Malacca Strait that had a ferry service to Indonesia. This was to serve as a way station for Indonesians and Malaysians who were on their way to Afghanistan and Pakistan to study, or to fight the Soviets, or later to train in one of the forty Al Qaeda camps that had been established in Pakistan in the late 1990s. Sungkar travelled to Pakistan and the Afghan border region in the early 1990s where he met bin Laden and other senior Al Qaeda members, and where he pledged boyat, effectively absorbing his movement into Al Qaeda.

Bashir and Sungkar are revered figures with large and devoted followers. Their speeches had attacked Soeharto's New Order regime, and their demand for the implementation of Shariah won them a hardcore following. As Sungkar stated in a 1997 interview:

[Soeharto], using force makes it compulsory for the Islamic community to accept Pancasila as the only foundation for the nation, political parties and organizations... His regime still applies the system "detect, defect and destroy" when applied towards the Islamic movement which it distrusts and regards as subversive. (77)

To that end, Sungkar espoused violent jihad to create Dawlah Islamiah. Sungkar contended that the Islamic community had to build up three strengths:

* Quwwatul Aqidah (Faith's strength)

* Quwwatul Ukhuwwah (Brotherhood's strength)

* Quwwatul Musallah (Military strength) (78)

In the process, Sungkar made clear that the Islamic community worldwide would be important contributors in the process of building up these three faiths. (79)

Sungkar and Bashir returned to their pesentren in Solo, Indonesia, in 1999 once the Soeharto regime collapsed and democracy was established, although Sungkar died shortly thereafter. In mid-2000, Bashir established the Majelis Mujaheddin of Indonesia based in Jogyakarta. The group is ostensibly a civil society organization that tries to implement Shariah peacefully and through the democratic process. However, in reality it is an umbrella organization and co-ordinating body for many militant and hardline Islamic organizations and groups which are committed to the establishment of an Islamic state in Indonesia. As Bashir has put it:

The MMI is an institution where a lot of people from a lot of Muslim groups including the NU and Muhamidya gather at one table to discuss how to get our vision of sharia implemented into national laws... The long-term strategy is to get Indonesia 100 per cent based on sharia. As long as Muslims are the majority, the country should be ruled by sharia. (30)

Another member of the MMI put it this way: "I think that the MMI is no less, no more, an NGO whose goal is the empowerment of those who have experienced oppression." Yet, the Mivil is thought to be a front for Abu Bakar Bashir's more militant activities. Bashir had recruited hundreds of followers to fight the Americans in Afghanistan in the fall of 2001 (but they were unable to leave Pakistan). The MIMI was clearly part of the JI network.

Establishing the Network

Bashir and Sungkar instructed their deputies, Hambali and Abu Jibril, to establish a network of militant cells throughout Southeast Asia, beginning in 1993. Hambali has long been an Al Qaeda operative in the region, and he was a close associate of Ramzi Yousef and Wali Khan Amin Shah. On 2 June 1994, he and Wali Khan established Konsojaya SDN BHD, a front company that provided logistical services -- especially the procurement of bomb-making materials -- for Ramzi Yousef's Operation Bojinka. It is unclear at what point Hambali was formally recruited into Al Qaeda.

Hambali and Jibril launched an active recruiting campaign in Malaysia and Singapore. In Malaysia, recruitment focused on two key groups: Indonesian migrants/exiles and Universiti Tecknologi Malaysia (UTM) lecturers and students. UTM, located across from Singapore in Johor, has traditionally been a hotbed of Islamic radicalism. In Singapore, recruitment focused on older, more established middle-class individuals: these were well-educated people with good jobs, products of state schools, not stereotypical Islamic radicals.

Yet, membership in Jemaah Islamiah is highly selective and comprised three phases over many years. "We are not a mass organization," said one senior JI official. "We want people who will be loyal to the aims of the group.,, (81) The first phase involved the screening of individuals, including their family background, and knowledge of Islam. Once selected, Hambali enrolled the students at pesentren and modrasah to study Islam. Many young radicals were sent to Pakistan and Afghanistan. The third phase of the training/recruitment regimen was physical and military in nature. Some fifty individuals (nineteen out of the twenty-three arrested in Malaysia, and at least eight Singaporeans) were sent to Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. More (at least five Singaporeans) were sent to two MILF bases in Mindanao, Camp Abu Bakar, and Camp Obaida. There, they learned bomb-making, weapons training, surveillance, sabotage, communications, and cell formation.

At the heart of their recruitment was the Al Tarbiyah Luqmanul Hakiern Islamic boarding school outside the southern Malaysian city of Johor Bahru, that was purchased in the mid-1990s. The school's master, Ali Ghufron (Mukhlas), later became the head of the JI's Malaysian cell, and in 2002, the head of operations for JI. Students of this school included another Indonesian, Abdul Aziz, aka Imam Samudra, who went on to train in Afghanistan, and was the mastermind behind the Bali bombing.

Organizational Structure

The JI was formally established some time in 1994-95. Hambali became the chairman of its five-member Regional Advisory Council (syurah). Other members included Mohammed Iqbal Rahman (Abu Jibril), Abu Hanifah, and Faiz bin Abu Bakar Bafana. Bafana, a Malaysian businessman and former Singaporean, was a key aide to Hambali. He ran a large construction firm in Malaysia, Marebina, and was an important financial backer of the JI. Below the Regional Advisory Council, Hambali appointed several lieutenants to establish cells in their respective countries. Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi established a cell in the Philippines; Ibrahim bin Maidin set up the Singapore cell; Abdussalam bin Abu Thalib ran the Malaysian cell; and Irfan Suryahadi Anwas, the younger brother of Abu Jibril, organized the Indonesian cell, and was the head of the MMI. Each cell in turn had several sub-cells (fiah).

The JI cells in each of the four countries--Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines--were fairly independent of each other and clearly had very specific functions. Each took advantage of certain socioeconomic, socio-political geographical, and demographic aspects of their host state to develop and plan operations. Although some funding was raised locally, much came from abroad. According to Malaysian and Singapore intelligence, the JI has received some RP1.35 billion from Al Qaeda since 1996. That year, the JI received RP250 million, RP400 million in 1997, and RP700 million in 2000. (82)

The Malaysian Cell

With an estimated 200 members, the Malaysian cell is the largest in the JI network. It is led by Abu Hanafiah and Faiz bin Abu Bakar Bafana. At least thirteen members were trained in Afghanistan, others were trained at an MILF camp in Mindanao. The Malaysian JI cell recruited actively among both Indonesian exiles and educated Malays. At least five senior JI members and recruiters were lecturers in the UTM. The twenty-two suspects who have been arrested in Malaysia are well-educated; twelve have university degrees, five are from institutions in the United States, Great Britain, and Indonesia, and the remainder from Malaysian universities.

The Malaysian JI cell had five discernible functions. It acted, first, as a liaison with the KMM in Malaysia, with whom there was considerable overlap in membership, but it also served as a major conduit between the JI and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. The Malaysian cell was the logistical hub for dispatching JI operatives to Afghanistan for training. Hambali secured visas for JI members by getting them "enrolled" in Pakistani madrasah. In all, it is said that more than 1,000 JI operatives from Southeast Asia were sent to Afghanistan.

Secondly, the Malaysian cell was responsible for establishing several front companies that could be used to channel Al Qaeda funds and procure weapons and bomb-making materiel. In addition to Konsojaya, established on 2 June 1994, there were three other front companies that have been discovered and run by Al Qaeda in Malaysia:

* Green Laboratory Medicine SDN BHD, established on 6 October 1993.

* Infocus Technology SDN BHD, established on 13 July 1995, and

* Secure Valley SDN BHD, established on 4 October 1996

Thirdly, the Malaysian cell, under the leadership of Abu Jibril, was also the centre of the Maluku jihad activities. Jibril not only raised funds for the jihad, but led several hundred jihadis there bearing automatic weapons. Though most of those weapons were procured by JI operatives in the Philippines, the Malaysian cell also procured weapons in southern Thailand. Jibril co-ordinated his activities with Umar Jafar Thalib of Indonesia's Laskar Jihad, who was in overall command of jihadi forces in the Malukus.

Fourthly, the Malaysian cell was responsible for procuring large quantities of ammonium nitrate, a chemical fertilizer used in bombs. Ammonium nitrate is not commonly found in Singapore, though it is readily available in Malaysia. There, one tonne of the substance costs approximately S$400-500 In October 2000, the Malaysian cell had already procured and transferred some 4 tonnes of ammonium nitrate to the cell in Singapore where it planned to target U.S. interests; 17 more tonnes were to be purchased and delivered, but the cell was broken up before the deal was finalized.

The fifth function of the Malaysian cell was to run a camp in Negri Sembilan, in southern Malaysia, that was used by both the Malaysian and Singapore cells for training new recruits.

The Philippine Cell

The Philippine cell was a major logistics cell for the JI network, responsible for acquiring explosives, guns, and other equipment. Its leader was Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, also known as Mike. Born on 17 February 1971 in Central Java, al-Ghozi, as a child, had studied at Abu Bakar Bashir's pesentren, Al Mukmin (1984-90), before going on to study in a Pakistani madrasah for six years (1990-95), when he was recruited into Al Qaeda by a Malaysian businessman, and a member of the JI Regional Advisory Council, Faiz bin Abu Bakar Bafana. Al-Ghozi was trained by Al Qaeda in Afghanistan in 1993-94, where he was introduced to several MILF personnel, and was sent to the Philippines in late 1995 to early 1996 to establish contacts and set up a cell.

Al-Ghozi was also responsible for liaising with the MILF. In December 1996, al-Ghozi travelled to the MILF headquarters, Camp Abu Bakar, to train MILF and JI personnel in bomb-making. His key contact was Sulaiman, an MILF cadre who had trained with al-Ghozi in an Al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan. Sulaiman appears to be responsible for international operations for the MILF.

During the next three years, al-Ghozi was in and out of the Philippines. He was sent back to the Philippines in March 1998 for six months, where he conducted another bomb-making course for MILF and JI personnel. (83) He returned to Indonesia, after applying for a Philippine passport in the name of Randy Andam Alib. Al-Zhozi was then ordered to procure a significant quantity of explosives for JI operations. In addition to explosives, al-Ghozi was responsible for the purchase of light arms and assault rifles. These were shipped to Poso, for Agus Dwikarna's Laskar Jundullah and for Abu Jibril's jihad in Ambon. In mid-2001, the Malaysian coastguard intercepted a vessel carrying a huge cache of mainly M-16 rifles en route from Zamboanga to Ambon.

The Philippine cell may also have been a conduit for financial transfers to the JI. The cell was also instrumental in arranging the training of JI/KMM members in MILF camps, as well as being a conduit for JI contributions to the MILF.

The Indonesian Cell

The least is known about the Indonesian cell, which is connected to Abu Bakar Bashir's MMI. The MMI is the key liaison between Bashir and the JI regional network, though this was denied by both Bashir and Indonesian police intelligence officials. Bashir completely denies the existence of the JI, saying that it is the creation of Malaysian and Singapore intelligence, while Indonesian police intelligence officials acknowledge JI's presence elsewhere in Southeast Asia but deny its existence in Indonesia. (84)

Bashir is the amir, the spiritual leader of JI. Below him is Fikri Sugundo, the JI secretary, a close lieutenant and Master of the elementary school of the Al Mukmin pesentren. The Indonesian JI cell is most likely headed by Irfan S. Awwas, the younger brother of Abu Jibril. Awwas is the director of the MMI and is in regular contact with radicals in the organization. He is also the chairman of Hiddyatullah Press and Wihdah Press, two MMI-owned publishing houses that produce radical Islamic texts and anti-American and anti-Zionist tracts.

In addition to its spiritual and leadership role, the MMI has other functions. First, senior Al Qaeda leaders have travelled to Indonesia and have liaised with Bashir's men, in particular Agus Dwikarna and Al Qaeda's top officer in Indonesia, and perhaps all of Southeast Asia, Omar Al-Faruq.

In October 2001, Indonesian intelligence officials discovered a document in Solo entitled "Operation Jibril". The fifteen-page document was signed by JI chairman Abu Hanafiah and JI secretary Fikri Sugundo, and called for the simultaneous bombings of the U.S. embassies in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. Subsequently, Indonesian intelligence officials decided that the document was probably a fabrication. (85) JI operatives have engaged in several terrorist acts in Indonesia, including the Christmas 2000 bombing of churches across Indonesia. JI operatives have also conducted "sweeps" in Solo, and have engaged in militant activities against Christian communities in the Malukus and Poso.

An important affiliate of the MMI is the Laskar Jundullah, a small militant organization that has conducted "sweeps" of foreigners in Solo, and has been at the forefront of the sectarian conflict in Poso. Laskar Jundullah has close links with the JI cell in the Philippines, which has supplied it with small arms and automatic weapons.

The Indonesian JI cell emerges as the most important cell after the Malaysian and Singapore governments' severe measures and arrests in late 2001 to 2002 of JI cells in both countries. With those cells under siege, many JI members fled to Indonesia where the JI network has consolidated its position and expanded.

The Singapore Cell

The Singapore cell was the major operational unit of the Southeast Asian JI network, tasked with planning and co-ordinating attacks. Some thirty-six JI members were arrested by Singapore authorities in two operations between December 2001 and August 2002, and more such arrests can be expected. The Singapore cell was first headed by Ibrahim bin Maidin (Qoaid Wakalah), a 51-year-old superintendent of an apartment building. He had no formal religious training but was trained by Bashir, Hambali, Sungkar, and Abu Jibril, all of whom frequently visited Singapore to preach to followers in private sessions. Maidin had trained in Afghanistan in 1993. He recruited almost all the Singapore JI members through a religious class that he taught in private residences.

Before it was broken up by the Singapore security and intelligence services, the Singapore cell had an estimated sixty to eighty members, though no more than twenty-five active operatives. In December 2001, thirteen operatives were arrested, while two others, found to be supporters of the MILF, were put under restrictive orders. Maidin became the amir of the group, while his successor, Mas Salamat Kastari, and four others fled to Indonesia. In addition to these five, Singapore intelligence officials believe seven or eight others escaped; roughly half the cell was broken up. However, this was an under-estimation and in August 2002, eighteen other JI members were arrested, though they were described as merely "foot-soldiers".

There are a few important characteristics of the Singapore JI members: most were educated, middle-class men, with no prior leanings to radical Islam. They were not seen in local mosques, preferring instead to congregate together, as the local mosques did not espouse Wahhibism. The Singapore JI cell was extremely secretive and was not discovered until late 2001. According to the Singapore Ministry of Home Affairs, "Several of those arrested had been to Afghanistan where they received short periods of training in Al Qaeda terrorist camps." At least five were trained in MILF camps. Most took time off from their jobs in Singapore, stating that they were going on a haj to Mecca. Of the second group of eighteen detained in August 2002, twelve had served in the Singapore Armed Forces as part of compulsory National Service, and all were educated in Singapore schools. They ranged in age (from 30 to 54) and in educational levels.

The Singapore JI cell had five functional units: operations, security, missionary work, fund-raising, and communications. Below the operations unit, there were three sub-cells, or fiah--each tasked with surveilling different targets: Fiah Ayub, Fiah Musa, and Fiah Ismail.

Fiah Ayub was led by Mohammed Khalim Jaffar, a 39-year-old printer, who met Maidin in 1989-90 and was trained by Al Qaeda in Afghanistan from September 1999 to April 2000. He was a local JI trainer. This sub-cell was tasked with developing two separate attacks: the bombing of a subway station (Yishun MRT station) where a shuttle bus regularly picked up U.S. naval personnel and brought them to the Sembawang wharf, where a U.S. Navy logistics facility is located. The second plan was a USS Cole-styled suicide attack on a U.S. Navy vessel in the narrow channel between Changi, on the eastern coastline of Singapore, and the offshore island of Pulau Tekong. Jaffar also had a listing of more than 200 U.S. firms operating in Singapore, and had marked three as potential targets of bombings. A video-tape, narrated by a cell member, Hashim bin Abas, an electrical engineer and the cell's treasurer, of the surveillance of the Yishun MRT subway station was found in the rubble of Mohammed Attef's house in Kabul, after the d efeat of the Taliban in early 2002. The prospective attack on this "soft target" was planned back in 1997 but never executed.

Fiah Musa was led by Mohammed Ellias, a 29-year-old manager, and Mohammed Nazir Mohammed, a 27-year-old ship traffic assistant. This Fiah was tasked to bomb the U.S. and Israeli embassies, as well as the British and Australian High Commissions in Singapore. Fiah Musa was instructed to procure 21 tonnes of ammonium nitrate and secure warehouse space that could be used to make truck bombs. It was instructed by Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi in bomb construction. Six Al Qaeda suicide bombers were to arrive from the Middle East to carry out the truck bombings. This Fiah had also instructed one of its members, Andrew Gerard, a 34-year-old aerospace technician at Singapore Technologies, to photograph and find suitable targets at Singapore's Paya Lebar Air Base, which is used by U.S. military aircraft deployed there on a rotational basis. In addition to Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, this Fiah was assisted by a Canadian of Kuwaiti descent, Mohammed Mansur Jabarah, who surveilled different targets in Singapore in October 2001. (86 )

Fiah Ismail was the smallest and newest cell, formed after 11 September. It was led by Galim Hussain, a 41-year-old supervisor, and was told to identify suitable U.S. commercial targets in Singapore.

What is significant about the Singapore JI cell is that almost all of the plans for its attacks were at an operational stage, just before the cell was broken up. A report in Jane's Intelligence Review stated that Osama bin Laden had personally called off the attacks. (87) According to Singapore's Internal Security Department, each of the fiahs "see their role as mainly providing logistical and other support to foreign terrorist elements who would determine when and what to attack".

One of the most important functions of the Singapore cell was fund-raising. Members of the Singapore JI cell donated 2 per cent of their salaries to the JI in the early 1990s; and 5 per cent by the end of the decade. Singapore investigators believed that 25 per cent of the funds raised were given to the Malaysian JI cell, and 25 per cent to the Indonesian cell. The transfers were conducted by individuals. The remaining funds were used by the Singapore JI fiahs for equipment, operations, and overseas training. The Singapore JI cell was also very much involved in fund-raising for the MILE. Of the thirty-six people detained in Singapore between December 2001 and August 2002, four were found to be not JI members, but active supporters and fund-raisers for the MILF.

Consolidating in Indonesia

While officials in Singapore and Malaysia have eradicated much of the senior Jemaah Islamiya leadership in their own countries since December 1991, both have expressed tremendous frustration about the lack of co-operation that they have received from Indonesian authorities--at least, until the Bali attack. Although Abu Bakar Bashir was named by both Malaysia and Singapore as a prime suspect and a leader of the Jemaah Islamiah network, he was allowed to live and preach openly. JI activity in Indonesia stepped up, culminating in the Bali bombings of 12 October 2002, in which the mastermind and two other arrested suspects are said to have close links with Bashir.

The Rabitatul Mujaheddin and Al Qaeda's Forays into Thailand and Myanmar

The senior-most Al Qaeda leader in Southeast Asia, Omar Al-Faruq, has admitted in interrogation, that the Jemaah Islamiah had tried to establish links with Muslim militants in Thailand and Myanmar. (88) In 1999, Abu Bakar Bashir established a co-ordinating body, known as the Rabitatul Mujaheddin (RM). RM was erroneously first described by the CNN as the armed wing of the Jemaah Islamiali, but in reality, it was simply a group of JI/MMI officials meeting with other regional militants.

Al Qaeda in Thailand

There have never been strong ties between the Muslim insurgency in southern Thailand and international terrorist groups. Though militants in southern Thailand have long been a fact of life, for the most part they have given up their campaign to create an independent homeland. Some have worked as logistics operatives for Acehnese rebels and the MILF, serving as an important financial and arms conduit. It is clear that Al Qaeda operatives have used Thailand as a base of operations for nearly a decade. Ramzi Yousef and many other Al Qaeda operatives have passed through Thailand. After the 11 September attacks, Thai Supreme Commander General Surayud Chulanond admitted that military intelligence was monitoring a "small number" of bin Laden operatives in Thailand, and that the government was cognizant of "Countries in the Middle East provid[ing] training, education and financial support for fundamentalist groups in the south [of Thailand]." (89)

There are two very small Thai groups, the Wae Ka Raeh (WKR) and the Guragan Mujaheddin Islam Pattani, that are thought to have some ties with the Jemaah Islamiali and Al Qaeda; and the head of the WKR fought with the Mujaheddin in Afghanistan. For the most part, however, they are criminal gangs. The WKR is thought to earn Bt10 million a year in contract killings and "enforcement". (90) It is evident from the confessions of Omar Al-Faruq that the JI was rapidly trying to expand its contacts with the Guragan Mujaheddin. Yet, the Guragan Mujaheddin remains a small and poorly funded organization, with only about a hundred members. Another Thai-Muslim militant group, the Patani United Liberation Organization (PULO), is suspected of having ties with the Abu Sayyaf.

Yet, Thailand is an important base for terrorist operations for much the same reasons as the Philippines: it is a nation of convenience. Thailand is surrounded by countries that have been mired in war and ongoing insurgencies. The Thai military has close ties with the Myanmar and Chinese military establishments, that have been important conduits for weapons. The leader of the Kumpulan Mujaheddin Malaysia, who was arrested in August 2001, was reported to have bought large quantifies of weapons in Thailand. (91)

Secondly, Thailand has been trying to become an international banking centre, although it has a weak regulatory system. A considerable amount of money flows between Thailand and the Middle East, and trade has grown significantly between the two. Corruption is endemic in the Thai Government and police force. Because of Thailand's place in the international drug trade, there is a culture of money-laundering, corruption, and operating in the shadows. According to the Thai Government, some Bt100 billion in drug money is laundered annually through financial institutions in Thailand. In March 2002, Thai authorities arrested twenty-five Middle Eastern men suspected of laundering Al Qaeda funds in the Kingdom. In 2002, intelligence officials noted that Thai immigration authorities had detained on average one person a day for travelling with forged documentation. (92)

Finally, Thailand is an international transport hub with easy international access. It has relatively lax immigration procedures and tourist-friendly visa requirements. It is a convenient country to facilitate financial transactions, transit, and network--factors useful to a terrorist organization such as Al Qaeda.

The Myanmar Connection

There is little information about the Al Qaeda network in Myanmar, but its nationals have been identified as Al Qaeda terrorists. Indeed, the largest Al Qaeda cell in Southeast Asia is said to be in Myanmar, although Myanmar's links are much closer to Al Qaeda networks in South Asia. (93) Myanmar does not offer terrorists the infrastructure they need, especially the ability to set up front companies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), nor is it a travel hub. Even if that is an over-estimation, there are a few disturbing signs.

Al Qaeda has long been established in neighbouring Bangladesh, where thousands of Muslims from Myanmar have taken refuge from the Myanmar military government's systematic repression of its Muslim ethnic minorities, the Bengalis, Rohingas, and Kachin. Muslims account for roughly 4 per cent of Myanmar's population. Currently, there are three Muslim-based guerrilla movements in Myanmar: the Ommat Liberation Front, the Kawthoolei Muslim Liberation Front, and the Muslim Liberation Organization of Burma. The government has waged a harsh counter-insurgency against these groups, and has at times tacitly supported local militias to engage in communal violence against local Muslims.

As long as the Myanmar junta continues to repress the Muslim minorities to the extent that it does, it can be expected that those minorities will attempt to reach out to any external group or state that will provide them with some assistance. That said, to date most of the Al Qaeda activity in Myanmar is less oriented towards Southeast Asia than it is to the India-Pakistan-Kashmir region.


One of the things that Al Qaeda has managed to do so successfully in Southeast Asia has been to graft onto or co-opt pre-existing radicals, radical movements, and groups. This raises two large and disturbing issues. The first is, at what point do parochial radicals, who had otherwise been concerned with a localized political grievance, become internationalists? At what point did they take their struggle to the next, higher, level? And how did that process occur? The second issue is, in what way did being linked to an organization such as Al Qaeda affect a movement such as the MILF, which otherwise enjoys considerable popular support and has a high degree of political legitimacy? Does it move away from a national liberation group when it crosses the line and engages in, or supports, international terrorism? These are important, if imponderable, questions for another article to examine and throw light on. This will then provide a fuller picture of Al Qaeda activity in Southeast Asia.


(1.) Anthony Shadid and Michael Kranish, "Gains Slow in Global Probe of Al Qaeda", Boston Globe, 2 December 2001, pp. A1, 28.

(2.) John Arquilla. David Ronfeldt, and Michele Zanini, "Networks, Netwar and Information-Age Terrorism", in Countering the New Terrorism, edited by Ian O. Lesser, et al. (Washington: Rand Corporation, 1999), p. 49.

(3.) Ibid., p. 51.

(4.) Phil Hirschkorn, Rohan Gunaratna, Ed Blanche and Stefan Leader, "Blowback: The Origins of Al Qaeda", Jane's Intelligence Review 13, no. 8 (August 2001).

(5.) Arquilla et al., op. cit., p. 61.

(6.) Muslims are required to pay 2.5 per cent of their income in zakat (alms) each year. It is estimated that $1.6 million per day is donated by wealthy Saudis alone. During the war against the Soviets, the Saudis established three charities: the Islamic International Relief Organization, the Al Hamaran Foundation, and the Islamic Relief Agency. Al Qaeda has established many more since then. Mark Hubard, "Bankrolling Bin Laden", Financial Times, 28 November 2001.

(7.) Peter Ford, "Al Qaeda's Veil Begins to Lift", Christian Science Monitor, 20 December 2001.

(8.) Ibid.

(9.) Richard Engel, "Inside Al-Qaeda: A Window into the World of Militant Islam and the Afghani Alumni", Janes Online, 28 September 2001.

(10.) Ford, op. cit.

(11.) Yonah Alexander, and Michael S. Swetnam, Usama bin Laden's al-Qaida: Profile of a Terrorist Network (Ardsley, NY: Transnational Publishers, 2001), p. 20.

(12.) See Ahmed Rashid, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), p. 129. According to Rashid, for Pakistan, this policy cemented Islamic unity and turned Pakistan into a leader of the Islamic world. For the United States, it served as propaganda to demonstrate that the entire Muslim world was against the Soviet Union.

(13.) Simon Reeve, The New Jackals (Boston: Northeast University Press, 1999), p. 226.

(14.) In early 2002, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf announced that he would implement new policies to oversee the 6,000 madrasah, which "propagate hatred and violence" and "produce semi-literate religious scholars". Pakistan has recently pledged to reduce the number of foreign students attending Pakistani madrasah by 60 per cent, Michael Richardson, "Asians Taking a Closer Look at Islamic Schools", International Herald Tribune, 12 February 2002; and Douglas Jehi, "Pakistan to Expel Foreign Religious Students," New York Times, 9 March 2002, A8.

(15.) Rashid, op. cit., pp. 17-30.

(16.) Pribumi is the Indonesian term for a native Muslim. Bumiputra, literally, "Son of the Soil" is the term for indigenous Muslim Malays. The distinction is mainly aimed at the ethnic Chinese minorities in those two countries. In Malaysia, Chinese comprise approximately 20 per cent of the population, while in Indonesia, they account for same 5 per cent of the population; yet in both cases they control a disproportionate amount of their respective country's wealth.

(17.) The goal of the New Economic Policy (NEP), as it was titled, was to ensure that Malays (who comprise two-thirds of the population) were able to account for one-third of economic assets, Over thirty years later, although there were significant improvements in the socio-economic position of Malays, the original goals of the NEP have still not been met.

(18.) Keith Krause, ed., Small Arms Survey 2001: Profiling the Problem (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 20.

(19.) Tim Weiner, "American Action is Held Likely in the Philippines and in Indonesia", New York Times, 10 October 2001, A1.

(20.) Interview with a colonel in the PNP-PSG, Makati, Philippines, 15 January 2002. Technically speaking, the MILF was not formed until 1984, but Salamat Hashim had already split with the MNLF in December 1977, moved his headquarters to Lahore, Pakistan, and led the "New Leadership" wing of the MNLF until the MILE was formally established. For the sake of simplicity, I will refer to the "New Leadership" faction of the MNLF as the MILF.

(21.) Department of the Interior and Local Government, "Country Report of the Republic of the Philippines" (Paper presented at the International Conference on Counter Terrorism, Baguio City, Philippines, 18-21 February 1996), p. 5.

(22.) Ibid., p. 6.

(23.) The second of Khalifa's four wives is the older sister of bin Laden.

(24.) Department of National Defense, The Philippine Campaign Against Terrorism (Quezon City: Camp Aguinaldo, 2001).

(25.) The Philippine National Police intelligence report does not mention Malaysia, which is surprising. It may be an oversight. See PNP, "After Intelligence Operations Report", Camp Crame, Quezon City, Philippines, 27 February 1995.

(26.) Dr Adnan Khalil Basha, "Largest Islamic Relief Organization Maligned," Letter to the Editor, Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI), August 2000.

(27.) Christine Herrera, "Gemma Linked to Bin Laden Group Funding Sayyaf, MILF," PDI, 10 August 2000. Based on IIRO documents at the Securities and Exchange Commission, Khalifa was one of five incorporators who signed the documents of registration. Only one was a non-Muslim. One of the five was a Filipino named Alice "Jameelah" Yabo, believed to be Khalifa's wife.

(28.) Interview with a counter-intelligence official, Quezon City, 16 January 2002.

(29.) Christine Herrera, "Bin Laden Funds Abu Sayyaf Through Muslim Relief Group", Philippine Daily Inquirer.

(30.) Interview with a captain of the AFP intelligence, Marawi, Philippines, 11 January 2002.

(31.) Interview with Eid Kabalu, MILF spokesman, Cotabato, 9 January 2002.

(32.) Interview with Eid Kabalu, MILF spokesman, Cotabato, 9 January 2002.

(33.) Lira Lalangin, "Bin Laden Seen Recruiting Ex-MILF", PDL 24 October 2001.

(34.) Interview with Eid Kabalu, MILF spokesman, Cotabato, 9 January 2002. Asked to comment on the reports from the government that they found "foreigners" in camps that they had overtaken, Bid Kabalu stated that it was actually a mistake by President Estrada. Estrada, according to Kabalu, was trying to denigrate the MILF and said that they were "not even Filipinos." This actually pleased the MILF at the time, because they thought that Estrada had actually publicly acknowledged that the Bangsamoro people were their own nation.

(35.) Raymond Burgos, "FBI Seeks Philippine Help in Hunting Down Terrorists", PDI, 30 September 2001.

(36.) Luz Baguioro, "JI Militants May Have Links with Separatist Group," Straits Times, 18 September 2002.

(37.) Interview with a counter-intelligence official, Quezon City, 16 January 2002. This official stated that one was a Jordanian, the other a Palestinian.

(38.) Interview with a captain of the AFP intelligence, Marawi, Philippines, 11 January 2002.

(39.) Interview with a Colonel in the PNP intelligence, Manila, 27 June 2002.

(40.) Janjalani was born on Basilan island, and was encouraged to study Islamic law in Saudi Arabia. He emerged in Afghanistan.

(41.) One source called his father an ustadz, but that term was really reserved for the ulama who were trained abroad and returned to the Philippines. My source did not know if his father was an ustadz.

(42.) Department of the Interior and Local Government, "Country Report of the Republic of the Philippines", p. 6.

(43.) Reeve, op. cit., p. 156.

(44.) Ibid., p. 136.

(45.) Edwin Angeles, aka Yusuf Ibrahim, fought the Soviets in Afghanistan. Following his return to the Philippines in 1991, he was captured by PNP/AFP forces, and recruited to serve as a double agent for the government. He was released and rejoined the ASG, but was killed soon after (most likely by the ASG).

(46.) Rohan Gunaratna, "The Evolution and Tactics of the Abu Sayyaf Group", Jane's Intelligence Review (July 2001).

(47.) Donald C. McNeil, Jr., "Belgium Seeks Arms Deals With Suspected Qaeda Ties", New York Times, 27 February 2002.

(48.) Tim McGirk, "Perpetually Perilous," Time Asia, 18 June 2001.

(49.) PNP, After Intelligence Operations Report, Camp Crame, Quezon City, Philippines, 27 February 1995.

(50.) Interview with a Colonel in the PNP-PSG, Makati, 15 January 2002; PNP, After Intelligence Operations Report, Camp Crame, Quezon City, Philippines, 27 February 1995.

(51.) In the Miller interview, bin Laden stated "As to what you say about him working for me, I have nothing to say."

(52.) When arrested he was found with seven passports, most bearing the same picture of him, but only the Afghan passport had his real name, while the others used aliases. In the Philippines, he used the name Osama (Ausama) Asmorai.

(53.) On 1 December 1994, Wall Khan Amin Shah also tested one of the bombs in the Creenbelt Theatre in Manila. No one was killed in the blast, although several people were injured.

(54.) For details, see Reeve, op. cit., pp. 90-91.

(55.) Yossef Bodansky, Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War an America (New York: Forum, 1999), p. 114.

(56.) I would like to thank an unnamed friend for bringing this to my attention.

(57.) Tawfiq bin Attash, aka Khallad, was arrested in Yemen in 1996 on suspicion of terrorist connections, but was later released. A Yemeni by birth, he holds Saudi citizenship. Tawflq was the head of bin Laden's bodyguards and became one of his chief emissaries. His whereabouts now are unknown.

(58.) Joceline Tan, "PAS Worried by Possible Islamic Link to US Attacks", Straits Times, 17 September 2001.

(59.) Associated Press, "Malaysia Uncovers Plots Against U.S.", 9 December 2001.

(60.) Patrick Sennyah, Ainon Mohd and Hayati Hayatudin, "KMM's Opposition Link", New Straits Times, 12 October 2001.

(61.) The 42-year-old religious teacher, Ahmad Jinbaz Mukhlis Mokhtar Ghazali, was detained on 2 February 2002, Another "religious official" was detained after being caught with a large cache of ammunition and Indonesian passports in Perak State on 2 March 2002.

(62.) Atef was the head of Al Qaeda's military operations, and was responsible for the suicide attack on the USS Cole. Ayman was the head of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, and was responsible for the murder of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. Gunaratna, "Al Qaeda: The Asian Connection", Jane's Intelligence Review (2002).

(63.) CNN, "Intel Report: Bin Laden Sought Indonesian Base", 9 July 2002. The two were accompanied by a high-ranking Indonesian militant, Agus Dwikarna, and a Kuwaiti permanent resident in Indonesia, Omar Al-Faruq, an important Al Qaeda financier in the region.

(64.) Harold Crouch, "Qaeda in Indonesia? The Evidence Doesn't Support Worries", International Herald Tribune, 23 October 2001.

(65.) "No Proof Yet of Terrorist Money: Jakarta", Straits Times, 9 November 2001.

(66.) Lindsay Murdoch, "Bin Laden 'Funded Christian Haters'", Sydney Morning Herald, 28 September 2001.

(67.) Dan Murphy, "Indonesia's Far-Flung 'Holy War'," Christian Science Monitor, 23 August 2000.

(68.) "Indonesia: Overcoming Murder and Chaos in Maluku", ICG Asia Report No. 10 (December 2000).

(69.) www.laskarjihad.org.

(70.) Rohan Gunaratna, "Al Qaeda: The Asian Connection".

(71.) Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Peter Finn, "U.S. Behind Secret Transfer of Tenor Suspects," Washington Post, 11 March 2002.

(72.) Romesh Ratnesar, "Confessions of an AL Qaeda Terrorist", Time 16 September 2002; BIN Interrogation Report of Omar Al-Faruq (June 2002).

(73.) The joint training operation lasted from 30 May to 3 June.

(74.) Ratnesar, op. cit.

(75.) For more on Bashir, see Dan Murphy, "Militant Preacher a Focus for Asian Tenor Hunt", Christian Science Monitor, 30 January 2002.

(76.) For more on Al Mukmin, see Bina Bektiati, Imron Rosyid and L.N. Idayanie, "Exclusive and Secretive", Tempo, No. 21 (29 January - 4 February 2002).

(77.) "Suharto's Detect, Defect and Destroy Policy Towards the Islamic Movement", interview with Abdullah Sungkar, in Nida'ul Islam, February-March 1997.

(78.) Ibid.

(79.) Ibid.

(80.) Interview with Abu Bakar Bashir, Ngruki, Solo, 11 June 2002.

(81.) Derwin Pereira, "A Potent Force with a Network in the Region," Straits Times, 20 January 2002.

(82.) Derwin Pereira, "Is There an Al-Qaeda Connection in Indonesia?" Straits Times, 20 January 2002.

(83.) Four of the thirteen arrested JI operatives in Singapore identified Al-Chozi as their instructor in the Philippines.

(84.) Interview with Abu Bakar Bashir, Solo, 11 June 2002; interview with Drs Prosetyo, MABISPOLRI, Jakarta, 13 June 2002; and interview with Drs Bagus, Director of Office of Terrorism, Police Intelligence, MABISPOLRI, Jakarta, 14 June 2002.

(85.) "The Jibril Document Was Fabricated: Interview with As'at Said", Tempo, no. 25 (26 February-4 March 2002).

(86.) Jabarah was an ethnic Kuwaiti and naturalized Canadian citizen who travelled to Kuwait to study Islam. Unable to gain entrance in a university because of his poor Arabic, he moved to Pakistan some time in 2000 and enrolled in an Islamic school. In Pakistan, he was recruited into the Al Queda.

(87.) Gunaratna, "Al Qaeda: The Asian Connection."

(88.) BIN Interrogation Report of Omar AL-Faruq (June 2002).

(89.) McBeth, "The Danger Within", Far Eastern Economic Review, 27 September 2001, p. 21.

(90.) "Muslim Group Linked to Attacks in Thailand," Straits Times, 25 March 2002.

(91.) Associated Press, "Militant Suspects Jailed for 2 Years," South China Morning Post, 27 September 2001.

(92.) "Canada Helps Thais Combat Terror," Far Eastern Economic Review, 19 September 2002.

(93.) Larry Jagan, "Bin Laden- The Asia Connection", BBC, 27 September 2001.

ZACHARY ABUZA is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science and International Relations, Simmons College.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|A97422971