MILF CHIEF'S HOME YIELDS AL-QAEDA LINK  

Pikit, North Cotabato, Feb. 17, 2003 -- Government troops seized boxes of documents in the house of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leader Hashim Salamat, detailing alleged links by the Muslim rebels to the al-Qaeda network of international fugitive Osama bin Laden.

Among those seized were manuals for assassination, ambush, and bombing techniques, mostly in Arabic script, military officials said yesterday.

Military intelligence officers who inspected Salamat's fortified residence said they recovered notebooks containing names of suspected benefactors of the group in the Middle East, parts of Africa and Pakistan.

Military sources said most of the notebooks contained coded entries written in Arabic which also indicated dates when Salamat, an Egyptian-trained missionary and fluent in Arabic, had telephone conversations with his foreign contacts.

Sources disclosed that some documents are printouts of Arabic e-mail messages between certain members of the MILF central committee and foreign nationals in Middle East countries.

Maj. Gen. Generoso Senga, Army 6th Infantry Division commander, said pictures of rifle-clad children being trained as guerrillas were also found in the house, which allegedly was the command post of Salamat inside Buliok complex here which fell to government control after five days of intense fighting.

"It means they are training terrorists," Senga said. "They're training even child combatants."

Senga said the military will use the documents found in Salamat's residence as evidence in detailing the MILF buildup of forces in the last 24 months after signing the temporary truce with the government.

He said some of the documents underscored the MILF's planned attacks on populated areas in Central Mindanao as "test missions" for new recruits, as well as procedures on recruitment of child combatants.

Soldiers also found lists of MILF's supposed targets for assassination, mostly local officials supporting the military's pacification campaign against kidnapping syndicates and extortionists operating in central Mindanao.

Army spokesman Maj. Julieto Ando said troops discovered the abandoned single-story building said to be the nerve-center for the MILF, from where Salamat had been issuing orders.

The concrete building had an office, prayer room, library and living quarters, he said.

Ando said soldiers also found documents which intelligence specialists are now studying for possible linkages between the MILF and al-Qaeda.

Western intelligence reports have linked the MILF to foreign terrorists, a claim denied by the rebels. But the group has acknowledged having trained foreign Islamic militants in the past, including those from Jemaah Islamiyah, which had been blamed for the deadly Bali bombings in Indonesia last year.

"These materials are very serious. We need to extensively study them and evaluate their bearing on the Mindanao peace process," Ando said.

He said government troops have been ordered to run after five guerrillas who were earlier seen scurrying out of the complex carrying heavy bags believed to contain more documents from Salamat's house.

According to Ando, one of the bags left in haste by one of the guerrilla messengers, even contained a photo album showing MILF central committee members in a meeting with their supposed benefactors abroad. (By John Unson, Star)


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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