Zamboanga City (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - At least five foreigners with links to the slain terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden continue hiding in the southern Philippines, military officials said Thursday.
Vice Admiral Alexander Pama, commander of the Philippine Navy, said topping the list of foreign terrorists in Mindanao was US-trained engineer Zulkifli Bin Hir alias Marwan, a Malaysian who reportedly trains the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan and Sulu in bomb-making techniques.
"The Armed Forces of the Philippines intensified its intelligence operation to locate these terrorists," Pama said during a visit here.
He said Bin Hir stayed in Tipo-tipo, Basilan, where he worked with Abu Sayyaf leader Khair Mundos, before moving to Sulu.
Pama said another foreign terrorist hiding in Mindanao was known only as Mauwiyah.
Brigadier General Eugenio Clemen, Philippine Marines vice commandant, said Mauwiyah, a Singaporean married to a Tausug, was last reported to be in Sulu.
"We gathered that he managed to blend in the community and the last report we got is that this terrorist is engaged in seaweed farming in Sulu,” Clemen said. “Our intelligence operatives are tracking his exact whereabouts but latest report indicated he is still in Sulu."
Lieutenant Colonel Randolph Cabangbang, spokesman of the Western Mindanao Command, identified the three other foreign terror suspects as Indonesians Saad and Qayyim; and Amin Baco, a Malaysian.
"Their primary interest here is to train local contacts on bomb-making," Cabangbang said. "Now there are reports they are highly mobile and trying to blend in the communities."
Pama said Bin Laden’s death could trigger renewed activities by these suspected foreign terrorists.
Cabangbang said an intensified manhunt has been launched for the capture of the foreigners.
The southern Philippines has been suspected of hosting foreign terrorists since the early 1990s, but their presence was verified only with the arrest in January 2002 of Jemaah Islamiyah operative Fathur Rohman Al-Ghozi, the alleged engineer of the 2000 Rizal Day bombing, Cabangbang said.
It was Al-Ghozi who provided rich information on JI activities in Mindanao. On July 14, 2003, he managed to escape from jail and fled anew to Mindanao. He was killed by security forces in October that year in Pigkawayan, North Cotabato.
Like Al-Ghozi, Omar Patek, another Indonesian JI member hid in Mindanao, according to Cabangbang. Patek provided training to the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu and Basilan.
He was also reportedly responsible for providing bomb-making expertise to the group of Basit Usman, who was blamed for a series of bomb attacks in Central Mindanao. Usman is being linked to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front although the rebel group has repeatedly denied any association with him.
Patek was eventually arrested last March in Abbotabad, Pakistan, the same place where Bin Laden was killed.