MANILA, Philippines – Muslim Filipino rebels have helped Indonesian terror suspects evade capture by giving them refuge and access to weapons and funds in the southern Philippines, a government report says.
The information was gleaned from a recently arrested rebel who told government interrogators that Indonesian terror suspect Umar Patek has established ties with Filipino militants in the region. A report on his interrogation was seen by The Associated Press on Monday.
Omar Venancio told interrogators that Patek, who fled to southern Mindanao in 2003, had established links with at least five rebel groups in order to gain a safe haven for Jemaah Islamiyah, a radical Indonesia-based faction.
U.S. and Philippine security officials have long been concerned that such tie-ups could allow foreign radicals to pass bomb-making skills and their extremist brand of Islam to Filipino militants and turn southern Philippine rebel strongholds into terrorist training grounds.
Patek and fellow suspected terrorist Dulmatin fled to Mindanao a year after allegedly helping mastermind the 2002 nightclub bombings in Bali, Indonesia that killed 202 people. They have remained in Mindanao since then, along with about 40 fellow Jemaah Islamiyah members, the military said.
Venancio, a member of the country's largest Muslim rebel group — the Moro Islamic Liberation Front — helped Patek and other Indonesian radicals move around Mindanao, locating hide-outs and moving money through different bank accounts, the report said.
Venancio was arrested by government intelligence agents last January in southern Cotabato city in connection with a killing apparently unrelated to the Muslim insurgency.
According to Venancio, Patek and other Indonesians knew ranking commanders of the smaller but more brutal Abu Sayyaf group and the Rajah Solaiman Movement, a violent group of Islamic converts linked to deadly bomb attacks in the southern Philippines.
Patek and Dulmatin also knew a commander of the Moro National Liberation Front, a group based on southern Jolo island that signed a 1996 peace pact with the government but whose members have refused to disarm, the report quoted Venancio as telling interrogators.
Venancio was introduced to Patek by Mokasid Dilna, a former Muslim rebel commander who led the Al-Khobar group until he was captured last January, the report said. Al-Khobar has been blamed for bombing passenger buses for extortion.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front have denied any links with Patek and foreign terrorist groups.
Last September, Patek asked Venancio to help arrange a meeting with Moro Islamic Liberation Front commander Umbra Kato, from whom Patek hoped to acquire firearms and money. It was not clear if the deal pushed through.
Venancio said he received bomb-making training as a new rebel recruit in 1997 in a Moro Islamic Liberation Front camp in Mindanao. He trained with about 30 Indonesians and 10 Middle Eastern nationals.
Rebel spokesman Eid Kabalu said Venancio was a rebel who was expelled a few years ago from the group due to his involvement with Indonesian radicals.