The Philippines has scored a major victory in the second front of the long war with the capture of Feliciano de los Reyes, aka Ustadz Abubakar, a key member of the Rajah Solaiman Movement (RSM) in Lamitan on Basilan island. De los Reyes is believed to be singing to the authorities and has revealed in detail, according to local press reports, RSM’s ties with al Qaeda’s Philippines syndicate Abu Sayyaf.
While its strength is estimated at approximately 30 members, the RSM is of special interest to Manila because it consists of Catholic converts to Salafism who are better able to penetrate and infiltrate non-Muslim regions of the Philippines, including Luzon, without giving away a southern accent or ethnic appearance. The group extends the capabilities of Abu Sayyaf for large-scale terror operations outside and beyond Jolo, Sulu and Mindanao islands. Together with Abu Sayyaf, in fact, the RSM was responsible for the simultaneous 2004 Valentine’s Day bombing attacks that killed 100 people – the world’s worst maritime terror attack in recent years.
To what extent de los Reyes has cracked is not yet publicly known but it is believed that he has not only connected the RSM directly to Abu Sayyaf but also detailed the recent locations of RSM and Abu Sayyaf assets. He reportedly admitted his involvement in the February 2003 vehicle-borne IED attack on Awang Airport in Mindanao that killed one and injured three.
A U.S. military delegation is expected to arrive in the southern Philippines next week as Manila increases its strength on Jolo and Sulu islands. 650 additional troops are being sent to the region to join the already 8,000-strong contingent trailing Abu Sayyaf leader Khadaffy Janjalani and JI bombmakers Dulmatin, Umar Patek and possibly JI military chief Zulkarnaen (aka Aris Sumarsono). U.S. Special Forces teams have provided an intelligence support role since the offensive to flush the terrorists into the open was launched four months ago.
Meanwhile, Cebu city is on high alert as 16 Asian leaders, including Chinese President Hu Jintao and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, descend on the city for next week’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations annual summit meeting. In addition to the potential for terrorism timed to coincide with the summit, the city will face swarms of demonstrators and rallies. Protesters have already “outwitted” police and infiltrated the Cebu International Convention Center, where the summit will take place, to conduct an “exorcism rite.” City officials, meanwhile, are clearing the streets of homeless children, stray dogs and “psychotic vagrants.”
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