MANILA, Philippines – Abu Sayyaf
The Al Qaeda-linked (search) militants also received at least $18,500 over the past year from suspected members of the regional terror group Jemaah Islamiyah (search ) for explosives training, according to a report on the interrogation of Gamal Baharan, which was obtained by The Associated Press.
Baharan, 35, also said that an Abu Sayyaf leader still at large, Khadaffi Janjalani, claimed to speak directly with Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden (search) via satellite phone, according to the report.
Baharan is one of three suspects captured and charged last month for bomb attacks that killed eight people and wounded more than 100 on Feb. 14 in Manila and two southern cities. Abu Sayyaf said it launched the attacks to retaliate for military assaults on Muslim rebels in the southern Philippines.
Although the militants' ranks have been largely depleted by U.S.-backed military assaults, the government still considers the group a major threat.
Such concerns were highlighted by a botched jailbreak Monday in which Abu Sayyaf suspects seized guards' weapons in a melee that left five people dead. An ensuing 29-hour standoff ended when police stormed the prison in a hail of gunfire Tuesday and killed 22 inmates, including three prominent Abu Sayyaf commanders.
According to the military report, Baharan said Abu Sayyaf leaders Janjalani and Abu Sulaiman, working with Jemaah Islamiyah, had initiated scuba training for seasoned guerrillas to prepare for seaborne attacks.
In October, Baharan was told to undergo scuba training in southwestern Palawan province, the report said. He periodically received cell phone messages from Janjalani and Sulaiman "asking him how many fathoms he would be able to dive," the report said.
His training was in preparation for a Jemaah Islamiyah bombing plot on unspecified targets outside the Philippines that would require "underwater operation," the report quoted him as saying.
Baharan also disclosed that Janjalani was alive, contrary to speculation he was killed in a military air strike, the report said.
Military officials speaking on condition of anonymity said they couldn't confirm that Janjalani spoke with bin Laden.
The interrogation report said: "Subject averred that Janjalani has a direct contact to Osama bin Laden and (bin Laden's brother-in-law) Mohammed Jamal Khalifa. Janjalani is using a satellite phone in contacting both leaders. Subject further averred that bin Laden would ... talk to no one except Janjalani. They conversed in Arabic."
He told interrogators that he and another militant, Khalil Trinidad, were ordered by Sulaiman to bomb a bus in Manila last month to divert the military's attention from an offensive against rebels.
During a court hearing, a bus conductor identified Baharan and Trinidad as passengers who hurriedly left the bus shortly before the blast.
Both suspects pleaded innocent in court on Monday