Zamboanga City, March 15, 2003 -- Troops have recovered a cache of explosives, mostly mortar bombs and dynamites, buried by Abu Sayyaf rebels, whose group is tied to Osama bin Laden, on a remote village in Basilan island, the commander of military forces in the southern Philippines Lt. Gen. Narciso Abaya said Friday.

Abaya said soldiers have dug up 13 rounds of 60-mm mortar bombs and 113 sticks of TNT (trinitrotoluene) after villagers on Thursday tipped off the military about the location of the explosives.

"The seizure of the bombs is surely a big blow to the Abu Sayyaf. We believed these explosives would be used to bomb civilian and government targets in the southern Philippines. A stick of TNT is powerful enough to blow up a small building," he said.

Abaya said he ordered the military to intensify the operation against the Abu Sayyaf, a small group of so-called freedom fighters trying to establish an independent Islamic state in the southern Philippines.

"I have ordered the military to step up offensive against the Abu Sayyaf and to neutralize its leaders not only in Basilan or in Jolo but also elsewhere where they are known to operate," he said.

A regional Army spokesman Lt. Col. Daniel Lucero said the explosives were smuggled into the southern Philippines by the Abu Sayyaf. "These explosives were all imported, but we can't say their source of origin because it could jeopardize our operation to trace where the mortar shells and the TNT came from," he said.

Philippine authorities have linked the Abu Sayyaf to the series of terrorism and killings in the South and the United States has last year listed the group as a foreign terrorist organization, alongside with the al Qaeda network and Jemaah Islamiya.

The group was also implicated to the kidnapping and killing of US hostages Guillermo Sobero and Martin Burnham last year.

Security forces killed last week a still undetermined number of Abu Sayyaf gunmen in Jolo island after sodliers stormed a suspected hideout in the hinterland village of Tambaking in Maimbung town, the military said.

The Abu Sayyaf rebels is still holding three Indonesians sailors and four Filipino preachers kidnapped last year in Jolo island. The military said the foreigners were reported to have died in captivity -- one from diabetes and the other executed by rebels during a military rescue operation last month -- but this could not be independently confirmed.

An Abu Sayyaf leader Hamsirajo Salih also owned up the bloody bombing Mar. 04 of an international airport in Davao City that left at least 21 people dead and more than 160 wounded. The explosion ripped through a crowded passenger terminal at the Davao City International Airport (DCIA). The bomb, hidden in a backpack, was believed to have been assembled from TNT and was carried by a man Montazer Sudang, when it exploded killing him instantly, military and police said.

Sali said his group was behind the attac, but authorities insisted the bomber was a member of the larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), whom security officials said masterminded the attack. One of those killed was an American missionary William Hyde, of Richmond, Virginia; and that three of his companions -- Barbara Stevens, Sarah Stevens and the 10-month old Nathan Steven -- were also wounded in the attack around 5.25 p.m. Hyde was a member of the Southern Bapist Foreign Mission working in the Philippines.

The Abu Sayyaf also claimed responsibility for last month's carbomb attack near the Awang airport in Maguindanao province, that killed one person. Salih said the Abu Sayyaf would mount fresh attacks against military and US targets in Mindanao island.

Sali is one of five known leaders of the Abu Sayyaf wanted by the United States for the kidnapping and killing of US nationals Guillermo Sobero and Martin Burnham in Mindanao last year. The State Department has offered up to five million dollars for Sali's capture or any of the four -- Khadaffy Janjalani, Abu Soliaman, Isnilon Hapilon and Abu Sabaya, who reported killed in June during a sea clash off Mindanao. (Al Jacinto, PHNO Mindanao Bureau)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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