The BBC reports Islamic militants exploded two bombs intended to warn off regional heads of state coming to the ASEAN summit in the Philippine island of Cebu. But the warning bombs were triggered a few hundred miles south, on the wrong island, in Mindanao.
The fatalities occurred as a bomb was detonated in General Santos city. Hours later, an explosion in Kidapawan city, 110km further north, wounded others. The blasts came as the authorities stepped up security ahead of this weekend’s summit of leaders of 16 Asian nations in the central city of Cebu. The foreign secretary said the meeting would go ahead despite the attacks. "I have been told by our security people that everything is safe and secure here… and therefore the show will go on," Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo said.
This doesn’t mean the threat isn’t real. Reacting to protect Australians, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs has urged its nationals to avoid traveling to the site of the summit, citing terrorist threats. "An official warning of a high risk of terrorist attacks in The Philippines has been reissued as John Howard prepares to hold talks with Asian leaders in the region on Sunday night".
Just hours before, Filipino security forces struck at the head of the Abu Sayyaf’s urban Islamist terrorist unit on Jolo Island, which although physically distant from Cebu, may hold the command element controlling the attack cells.
A senior leader of the al-Qaeda-linked Muslim Abu Sayyaf group was killed in a clash with government troops on a southern Philippine island… General Hermogenes Esperon said Binang Sali, chief of the Abu Sayyaf’s urban terror unit, was killed late Tuesday in a brief firefight in Patikul town on Jolo island, 1,000 kilometres south of Manila…. Esperon said troops recovered the rebel’s body and a pistol after the firefight. "His neutralization translates to one bomber less that could carry out an attack on any target during the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit," he added.
But this does not mean the threat to the summit is over.
A member of a special cell composed of Christian converts to Islam was recently arrested in a Communist insurgent dominated area (Tagkawayan, Quezon). The unit, known as the Rajah Soliman Revolutionary Movement (RSRM), focuses on large explosions and car-bomb attacks, with a special fondness for American targets.
Even the RSRM’s name indicates a fusion between traditional Islamic and Communist motifs. Police sources say that Communist New People’s Army elements have been observed acquiring IED technology from Islamic rebels.
January 9, 2006 — Police arrested a member of the Rajah Solaiman Islamic Movement involved in the Feb. 14, 2005 bus bombing in Makati City on Wednesday while hiding in Tagkawayan, Quezon, officials said yesterday. Three people were killed and 103 others were injured in the attack.
National Police Chief Oscar Calderon identified the suspect as Ricardo Ayeras alias “Abdul Kareem Ayeras,” a Christian who converted to Islam and then trained with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. He said Ayeras was personally chosen by movement leader Hilarion Santos as a member of his core group tasked to bomb key establishments in Metro Manila, in particular those frequented by Americans.
Calderon said the movement picked the Rajah Solaiman Park in Malate, Manila, as one of its targets during Holy Week of 2005 because foreigners had been frequenting it. It appeared that the suspect obtained about 1320 pounds of explosives and stacked them at the movement’s safe house in Fairview, Quezon City, for the group’s bombing mission.
Some law enforcement personnel suspect that Islamic rebels now have the capability to operate far from their traditional bases in the Mindanao and range all over areas in the Luzon and the Visayas where they had no previous operational capability. For example, the muezzin call from the mosque in Fairview, Quezon City, near which 720 pounds of explosive was recovered, can be heard near the Philippine Legislative building in Batasan, Quezon City. The Jamestown Foundation has documented the demonstrated potency of the RSRM. It strikes high value targets with much larger bombs than the primitive weapons used against targets in provincial towns in Mindanao. But the chief danger of the RSSM lies in their focus on perceived targets like the United States for a fusion of Leftist/Islamist reasons. Jamestown says:
The RSRM is small, probably constituting no more than 50-100 hard-core activists. Despite its size, the group has demonstrated both a willingness and ability to "strike well above its weight," and is now known to have played an important role in some of the more high-profile assaults and plots that have taken place in the Philippines since 2004. The most notable include:
- The 2004 partial sinking of SuperFerry 14, which with 116 fatalities remains the most destructive act of maritime terrorism in the modern age.
- Synchronized bombings in February 2005 that targeted civilian-centric venues in Manila, General Santos City and Davao City.
- A multi-dimensional plan discovered the following month that was allegedly to have involved truck bomb attacks against either the U.S. or Saudi embassies in Manila; mass and light rail transit tracks and stations across the capital region; and nightclubs, restaurants and other venues popular with Western businessmen and tourists in the central commercial district of Makati …
… they underscored an operational focus on large-scale vehicular-borne devices-a first in the Philippine context-to destroy targets that would have direct implications for wider international interests … are either based in or have intimate knowledge of Manila. This facet makes Christian converts uniquely suited for carrying out attacks that are able to impact directly on the seat of national political, economic and cultural power. JI would presumably have a strong interest in availing itself of such a conduit given the Philippines’ overwhelming Catholic character, its universal endorsement of capitalism and liberal democracy and strong defense and security relationship with the United States (all of which symbolize much of what the group is violently opposed to).
Threast to the ASEAN summit may come from a focused strike forces similar to the RSRM rather than from the traditional Abu Sayyaf (ASG) forces.