Philippine terrorists claim link to Iraq
By Marc Lerner
March 4, 2003

CEBU, Philippines - Islamist terrorists in the southern Philippines who have
killed two American hostages in recent years say they are receiving money
from Iraqis close to President Saddam Hussein.
     Hamsiraji Sali, a local commander of the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf on
the remote southern island of Basilan, says he is getting nearly $20,000 a
year from supporters in Iraq.
     "It's so we would have something to spend on chemicals for bomb-making
and for the movement of our people," Sali told a reporter this week,
renewing earlier claims of support from Iraq.
     The payments, while small, provide additional evidence of a link
between Iraq and the Abu Sayyaf - a group with long-standing ties to al
Qaeda and its global terror network.
     The boast of an Iraqi connection was taken seriously after the
expulsion of an Iraqi diplomat from Manila last week amid charges he had
been in contact with the Abu Sayyaf by telephone.
     "Things like this are very difficult to pin down," said a Manila-based
Western diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "But it certainly
wouldn't surprise me."
     Iraqi diplomat Husham Hussein was expelled after Philippine officials
discovered that he had received a telephone call from an Abu Sayyaf member
linked to the Oct. 2 bombing in the southern port city of Zamboanga that
killed one American serviceman and badly wounded another.
     The soldiers were part of a joint training exercise intended to bolster
the Philippine military's ability to hunt down the terrorists.
     A new contingent of 1,700 U.S. troops began arriving in the southern
Philippines last month, with plans to put them into combat alongside their
Philippine counterparts in the fight against the Abu Sayyaf.
     That operation is on hold as questions have arisen about whether U.S.
participation in combat would violate provisions of the Philippine
     The Abu Sayyaf was founded more than a decade ago with help from Jamal
Mohammad Khalifa, a brother-in-law of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
     Several of its members have received explosives training from Ramzi
Ahmed Yousef, the mastermind of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center
in New York who is now in prison.
     Sali, who participated in the 2001 hostage seizure from a dive resort
that led to the deaths of two Americans, had claimed support from the Middle
     Reports of links between Middle Eastern terrorists and the Abu Sayyaf,
which means "bearer of the sword" in Arabic, have been rife since the
group's founding in the late 1980s by Abdurajak Janjalani, born to a Muslim
father and Christian mother on Basilan.
     Janjalani, who was killed in a firefight five years ago, studied in
Libya and Saudi Arabia and later fought in Afghanistan alongside men who
today form the core of bin Laden's al Qaeda network.
     Joel Guillo, a hospital worker held hostage for six months by the Abu
Sayyaf, said he witnessed the visits by Arab terrorists to the camps. Sali,
the Abu Sayyaf commander, said several of those visitors were Iraqis.
     Mr. Guillo was held along with Guillermo Sobero, an American tourist,
and Gracia and Martin Burnham, American missionaries who were taken from a
dive resort May 27, 2001.
     Mr. Sobero was beheaded the following month, and Mr. Burnham was killed
last year by his captors during a military rescue operation that freed his
     Sali told a reporter for the Philippine Daily Inquirer that weapons for
the Abu Sayyaf were being provided by unnamed contacts in the Middle East.
     The weapons, he said, were transshipped through Cambodia and Vietnam,
then to Malaysia and on to the southern Philippines.
     That the Abu Sayyaf needed outside aid baffled some observers who
pointed out that the terrorists received a windfall after their April 23,
2000, kidnapping of 21 persons - eight Europeans, two South Africans, nine
Malaysians and two Filipinos - from a resort in neighboring Malaysia.
     Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who has long meddled in Philippine
affairs, gave the Abu Sayyaf $20 million in ransom money - called
"development aid" - to release the hostages.
     Much of the money reportedly was siphoned off by middlemen who helped
negotiate the hostage release. The remainder was squandered by the Abu
Sayyaf on speedboats and arms, leaving ragtag units like Sali's destitute.
     While estimates of the number of full-time committed Abu Sayyaf
guerrillas vary, the Philippine military puts their strength at about 200,
down from more than 1,000 at the height of their kidnapping sprees. Many of
those fighters have retreated from Basilan to Jolo, an island farther south
where U.S. troops were to go into combat.

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