Sat, Oct 25, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Manila makes JI enemy number 1

PRESENT DANGER The recent arrests of top Jemaah Islamiyah leaders have exposed that the group's plans are deadly and far-ranging, President Gloria Arroyo says

AFP , MANILA

Filipino soldiers escort detained Indonesian national Taufek Refke, a top Jemaah Islamiah operative in the southern island of Mindanao, after he appeared at the Department of Justice in Manila on Thursday.

PHOTO: REUTERS

President Gloria Arroyo yesterday elevated the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) as the Philippines' number one security threat, saying the al-Qaeda linked group was capable of carrying out far-reaching terror attacks.

The JI, which experts say espouses the establishment of a radical Pan-Islamic enclave across Southeast Asia, has surpassed Filipino insurgent groups as the armed forces' foremost concern, she said.

There is now a need to "update our priorities," Arroyo said noting that the government was to resume peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) while the communist New People's Army (NPA) and the Abu Sayyaf were already a spent force.

"We are elevating the Jemaah Islamiyah into our official national threat spectrum," Arroyo said in a statement.

"We are going into a more focused campaign against the Jemaah Islamiyah, complete with a new order of battle and targets for domestic and transnational intelligence in concert with our allies," the president, a staunch anti-terror partner of the US, added.

Recent arrests of top JI leaders in the Philippines have exposed that the group's plans "are both deadly and far-ranging" and could threaten the stability of the region, Arroyo said.

The statement came a day after she announced the arrest of Taufek Refke, a 23-year-old Indonesian who is allegedly the JI's number two man in the southern Philippines.

Refke, who was arrested in the south early this month, is believed to have trained under Jemaah Islamiyah bomb expert Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi. Al Ghozi earlier escaped from a Manila police jail but was subsequently gunned down by security forces in the south.

Officials said some 40 other JI militants, most of whom are believed to be Indonesian, are on the loose in the southern island of Mindanao, where a massive manhunt has been launched.

Police said Refke has confessed under interrogation of being the JI's "finance and liaison officer" responsible for funding deadly bombings in the south. His arrest led government forces to an alleged JI hideout, where they recovered bomb-making equipment and radical Islamic literature.

The 12,500-strong MILF is the country's main Muslim force that is negotiating peace with Manila. It has denounced links to the JI, which authorities said is the Southeast Asian arm of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

The Abu Sayyaf is a small group of Islamic militants wanted for bombings and kidnappings in the southern Philippines and Malaysia, while the NPA is the armed wing of the underground Communist Party of the Philippines.

Arroyo warned the MILF to keep to the terms of a ceasefire pact it signed with Manila, under which it promised to turn over to security forces any JI members and other terrorists who seek shelter in its camps in southern Mindanao island.

"I want the MILF specifically to stand clear of the Jemaah Islamiyah, because we have special teams on the trail of the Jemaah Islamiyah fugitives," Arroyo said.

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