MANILA, OCTOBER 23, 2003  (STAR) By Christina Mendez  - Police authorities have identified the three top leaders of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terror cell operating in the country.

Officials engaged in manhunt operations identified the top three JI leaders as Gul Kifli, a certain Mustaqim and Taufik Rifqi, supposedly an Indonesian arrested by military intelligence agents earlier this month in Cotabato City.

Rifqi, tagged as the finance and logistics officer of the JI cell, later led authorities to their supposed safehouse in Cotabato City last Sunday where police and military intelligence operatives seized items used in bomb-making and materials initially suspected to be used in biological warfare.

Philippine National Police (PNP) community relations chief Director Ricardo de Leon tagged Kifli as the leader of the JI cell in the country.

A ranking police official said Kifli took over the JI terror cell leadership in the country following the arrest of Indonesian bomber Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi last year.

Al-Ghozi escaped from his detention cell at Camp Crame last July 14. After three months on the run, he was killed in a purported shootout with police at a road checkpoint near Pig-kawayan town in North Cotabato.

"After the arrest of Al-Ghozi, Julkifli (Kifli) took over the leadership of the JI Indonesians in Mindanao," the ranking police official told The STAR.

Sources said Kifli, Mustaqim and Rifqi led the training of local and foreign recruits in bomb-making and urban terror tactics at Camp Abubakar, the former stronghold of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Kifli, who also uses the aliases Zulkifli, Julkifli and Badrudin, was seen frequenting the JI camp, known as Camp Hadaibiyah, where Al-Ghozi worked as an instructor for several years before his arrest in Manila in January 2002.

Sources said Kifli, who speaks fluent Arabic, English, Bahasa and several local dialects, has been moving around Mindanao along with other JI members.

De Leon said Kifli and his associates often introduce themselves as Tabligh missionaries or Muslim scholars.

Kifli was among the primary suspects in the bombing of the Davao City International Airport and Sasa wharf early this year.

Mustaqim, on the other hand, was identified as a ranking member of the JI central committee.

He is believed to be the head of Camp Hudaibiyah, a JI military academy located inside Camp Abubakar in central Mindanao where several JI recruits, both locals and foreigners, underwent training from 1997 to 2000.

The terror training stopped following the fall of Camp Abubakar, the main MILF camp which fell into government control in mid-2000.

In the International Crisis Group Asia Report released last August, Mustaqim was appointed head of the military department, Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia, in August 2000.

On the other hand, De Leon said Task Force Sanglahi of the PNP Intelligence Group has been deployed in the known hideouts of the remaining JI terrorists.

"We have deployed them even before in support of the anti-terrorism campaign of the government," De Leon said.

He said the PNP has the names and the aliases of the 40 suspected JI members who are still in the country.

Meanwhile, the Indonesian consulate based in Davao City has called for a verification of Rifqi’s nationality and prove his alleged links with the JI.

"We really want to know first of Rifqi is indeed Indonesian. We want to know his citizenship. We would have a way of knowing if he is really Indonesian in case he would not be able to present any document proving his citizenship," Indonesian vice consul Johannes Manginsela said. No longer here?

Former PNP-IG chief Director Robert Delfin said there are indications that the JI leaders and members are no longer in the country.

Delfin, now Western Visayas PNP director, said the apparent absence of any recent major terror attack could prove that the terrorists have returned to their respective countries to escape the anti-terror efforts of the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Since the Dec. 30, 2000 bombings in Metro Manila, there were no other terror activity in the country that involved the JI, he said.

"If these foreign terrorists are still here, there should have been several terror attacks that followed the Dec. 30 bombings," Delfin said.

Delfin said the JI terrorists could not afford to be "sleepers" as it would be too expensive for them to wait for so long before launching new attacks.

Delfin said they could now be on the run following the arrest or death of several top JI leaders and operatives including Hambali, Rifqi and Al-Ghozi.

De Leon, however, insisted on the possibility that the foreign JI terrorists are still in the country and opted to lie low while suspending their operations.

"In any terrorist plan, you need the certainty of escape. We are just thankful that nothing has happened," De Leon said.

President Arroyo earlier ordered the police and military to track down the estimated 40 foreign terrorists following the discovery of a suspected JI safehouse in Cotabato City last Sunday.

Mrs. Arroyo also ordered the PNP and the AFP to distribute photos of the suspected terrorists.

PNP Director General Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. said they will soon come out with photos of the suspects.

"The members of the intelligence community are now meeting in coordination with the Bureau of Immigration. We will choose and give priority to those who are already charged in court," he said.

Ebdane also admitted the US government is helping out in the manhunt for the JI terrorists in the country.

Ebdane also ordered the relief of the Cotabato City police chief for alleging that the evidence seized last Sunday from the suspected JI safehouse were planted.

"We found traces of gun powder in the house so it is not true as alleged by the Cotabato police chief that we planted evidence. Those statements are very serious," he said.

Cotabato police chief Senior Superintendent Perako Makakua was earlier quoted as saying that the traces of gunpowder found at the safehouse were actually planted.

The PNP vehemently denied the allegations and claimed that the search was covered by a warrant and barangay officials were present to witness the police operation.

For its part, the military said the remaining JI terrorists might have fled across the country’s southern maritime border following a renewed government crackdown.

AFP vice chief of staff Lt. Gen. Rodolfo Garcia said Rifqi had told interrogators that there were at least 30 JI members in the country now, down from about 40 in 1999.

The capture of Rifqi led to the raid on a suspected JI hideout in Cotabato City last Sunday which yielded suspected bomb-making equipment. However, suspected foreign and local JI members fled the hideout.

"Now that there is pressure on them and they have felt it with Al-Ghozi and the neutralization of Taufik and this raid" in Cotabato, "it may be a possibility that several of them may make a quick getaway in our southern backdoor to look for safer places," Garcia said.

Rifqi admitted several of the 30 JI militants in the country had undergone terrorist training here.

"They have their training staff in country but he said these transit from the Philippines to other parts" of the world, Garcia recounted without elaborating.

Military spokesman Lt. Col. Daniel Lucero conceded in a separate interview that "our southern backdoor is so porous that anybody can just go in and out of our territory without much effort."

Lucero said the military did not have enough assets to monitor the border so intruders "can enter (with) impunity."

He said the military continued to hunt for suspected JI members in central Mindanao after the raid in Cotabato.

In the past, officials accused the MILF of training JI members in its camps, which accusation the Muslim rebels have denied.

JI is a Southeast Asian Islamic network which seeks to set up a pan-Islamic state across much of the region. It is blamed for a series of bombings in various Southeast Asian countries, including last year’s Bali blasts that killed 202 people.

The United States considers the JI to be regional allies of the al-Qaeda terror network blamed for the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks against the United States. - With Mike Frialde, Jaime Laude, Jose Aravilla, John Unson, Pamela Samia, Roel Pareño, Edith Regalado, AFP, AP

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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