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Philippines: Radical Muslim converts take centre stage

Reader comment on item: More Converts to Terrorism

Submitted by Sophie (Canada), Dec 20, 2005 at 17:07


Manila, 20 Dec. (AKI) - Intelligence officials in Manila say the arrest of the leader of a group of radical Muslim converts may have averted terrorist attacks in the capital over the holiday period. A senior army intelligence officer said that Pio de Vera, allegedly the number two of the Rajah Solaiman Movement (RSM), was captured last week in Zamboanga, on the southern island of Mindanao. The revelation comes on the heels of a report by the International Crisis Group on the danger that radicalised Muslim converts pose to the Philippines, by providing a logistical base in Manila for other more established terror groups.

"We have pre-empted what we believe was a major terror plot by Muslim militants to bomb night spots in the capital over the Christmas holidays," the official said.

In a report entitled "Philippines Terrorism:The Role of Militant Islamic Converts", published on Monday, the International Crisis Group (ICG) warns of increasingly close contact between Rajah Solaiman Movement (RSM) and Islamist terror formations Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah. RSM is the extremist wing of the Balik-Islam movement, literally 'return to Islam'.

The ICG notes that most RSM members live between Manila and the northern region of Luzon, while JI and Abu Sayyaf have their strongholds in the island of Mindanao, in the south. The arrest of Pio De Vera (RSM) in Mindanao would appear to confirm their concerns.

The Brussels-based ICG, which focuses on conflict prevention and resolution, suggests that the collaboration between RSM JI and Abu Sayyaf has paradoxically been fostered by a series of anti-terrorism measures adopted by the Philippines government in recent years. In the peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Manila forced the Islamist group to cut its links with various terror groups to whom it had offered sanctuary.

The MILF is one of the groups which is fighting for the creation of an Islamic state on Mindanao where it controls a few provinces. Since other terror operators were no longer welcome in the MILF camps they had to seek contacts and support elsewhere.

Other factors which encouraged JI and Abu Sayyaf to seek new partners were the successes obtained by the security forces against them and the operations of the Filipino army helped by the American marines, on the island of Basilan, the historic headquarters of Abu Sayyaf.

Welcoming them with open arms, the report notes, are members of RSM who live mainly in the capital.

The Rajah Solaiman Movement was founded in January 2002 by Ahmed Santos who abandoned Catholicism in 1993.

From its foundation, RSM has made giant leaps and the Filipino police say that it has collaborated with JI and Abu Sayaf in various terrorist attacks in the capital. According to the US daily, the Christian Science Monitor, a member of Balik Islam movement had admitted responsibility for a bomb that went off on a ferry boat leaving Manila in February 2004. The bomb killed more than 100 people.

RSM is a minority inside Balik Islam and experts say that comes from their desire to prove they are "true Muslims".

Balik Islam literally means "return to Islam" and its adherents believe that all individuals are born free of sin and are Muslims. And those that deviate are those that follow the wrong teachings of their parents and guardians. Following that, according to the Balik Islam, to abandon other faiths in favour of Islam is therefore not a conversion but instead a "return".

Apart from East Timor, the Philippines is the only Asian country with a Christian-Catholic majority. Leaders of Balik Islam argue that before the arrival of the Spanish conquerors the Philippines was a Muslim nation. But historians point out that the main indigenous belief system was animism, until Muslim colonisers arrived in the mid 1300s, followed by the Catholic Spaniards some two hundred years later.

According to some sources there are more than 200,000 Balik Islam members in Manila and surrounding areas. Most of them have 'returned' to Islam by marriage or after long stints working in Saudi Arabia.


Dec-20-05 18:04


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