‘Whole-nation approach’ needed to fight terror

February 05, 2019

I’M referring to the need for a ‘whole of nation’ approach to combat a sinister plot by Enemies of the State specifically the Abu Sayyaf to trigger a sectarian, a religious war in the country by pitting Christians and Muslims against each other.

A friend of mine who is known for thoroughly studying the way of life in Mindanao told me this is really not far-fetched since the Abu Sayyaf have been trying to foment trouble in the South by attacking Christian targets and trying to bait them into venting their ire on their fellow Muslims over the past few years.

I brought the same matter to the attention of PNP chief, General Oscar Albayalde last Monday and he assured me that government measures are in place to prevent such a ‘grand plan’ by the Abu Sayyaf. However, our top cop said they need all the help they can get from the public to foil such evil plot.

“Their objective is to create chaos and terror, they want Christians to react if they bomb churches and other Christian targets. This is why these terror acts should be stopped and we need all the information we can get from the public,” the PNP chief told me.

He made the statement in answer to my question regarding the Abu Sayyaf’s apparent effort to trigger a ‘religious war’ in Mindanao. My friend told me it all started when Abu Sayyaf and Maute terrorists filmed gunmen desecrating a Catholic church at the start of the 5-month old Marawi City siege. They followed it later with an incident involving a bomb-laden truck in Lamitan, Basilan last year which killed several militiamen and civilians.

Apparently, the Abu Sayyaf planned to detonate the ‘suicide truck’ during a gathering of hundreds of children attending a national nutrition month celebration in the town but thanks to God, the plot did not materialize when the truck got stalled near an Army patrol base and the driver panicked and detonated the bomb when he saw soldiers and militiamen approaching him.

Then came the January 27 bombing of the Jolo Cathedral which left 23 persons dead and 95 wounded which was followed by a grenade attack at a mosque in Zamboanga City which killed two Muslim religious leaders and injured four others. However, police say they still see no connection between the church bombing and the mosque grenade-throwing incident.

Gen. Albayalde said fighting between Christians and Muslims in Mindanao are not new since they became infamous in the 70s when military-backed Christian ‘Ilagas’ fought Moro National Liberation Front guerrillas. “It has happened before in Mindanao, the fighting between Christians and Muslims. Their battlecry during those days is if you can do this, we can also do that,” he explained.

However, the PNP chief said they don’t want a repeat of those heavy fighting in the South during the Marcos presidency.  “This is the reason why we need the help of the community in fighting this threat. The local populace will always know who’s the stranger in their area. In case somebody buys something in a store, say a vinegar but can’t speak your language, or speaks a language he or she only knows, please report to us immediately,” he told me.

He was referring to two suspected Indonesian bombers who were believed to have carried out the ‘suicide bombing’ at the Jolo Cathedral last January 27. The PNP chief said they have already coordinated their investigation into the identities of the suspects with their Indonesian and Malaysian counterparts.

Gen. Albayalde expressed belief that the terrorists have long planned the attack but failed to immediately carry it out when martial law was declared in Mindanao last year. “They just got the opportunity when they saw troops guarding the church were already relaxing,” he said. “But we can only prevent similar things from happening for such a time lang. That’s why we need the full help and cooperation of the community in this fight,” he added.

My friend, PNP Deputy Chief for Administration, Deputy Director General Jojo Mendez said that for him, the group that carried out the Jolo cathedral bombing and the group of slain Southeast Asia’s most wanted terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias ‘Marwan’ were very much the same.

A known counter-terrorism expert, Mendez said they monitored Marwan in the early stages of his career in Mindanao and they already knew then that he was reaching to ISIS leaders in Syria by communicating them regularly thru the internet.

Mendez however said they are monitoring the presence in the country  of foreign ‘suicide bombers’ being provided by the ISIS just like what happened in Jolo. “There are no Filipino suicide bombers yet. We think that they are not that radical compared to some foreigners who are being brainwashed, whose minds are being conditioned while they are still very young. We have to prevent this from happening,” the official said.

Now that police have solved the Jolo church bombing with the filing of multiple murder and frustrated murder charges against the suspects led by  Kammah Pae alias ‘Kamah,’  I am joining the national police and the military in calling on all concerned citizens to immediately report suspicious activities and movements of strangers and large group of persons in their communities.

As Gen. Albayalde had said, the citizenry must be alarmed if a person buying ‘suka’ in a sari-sari store doesn’t know how to speak the local dialect or even English or Tagalog. In the case of the two suspected ‘suicide bombers’ who detonated the powerful IEDs at the Jolo Cathedral, it was reported that they were not speaking the native Tausug dialect. Instead, they were heard speaking Malay-Indonesian.

Simple things like this should be reported to local authorities, I believe. Just the same when strangers suddenly show up in a supermarket or a big store to shop for materials that can be used to manufacture IEDs.  The PNP chief said that PNP forensic technicias have reconstructed the two detonated IEDs in Jolo and found out that they were made from common GI pipes that served as casing.

The IEDs contained possibly ammonium nitrate-fuel oil (ANFO) compound as primary explosive charge and possible boosted by secondary high-explosives, possibly PETN, TNT or RDX which is subject to further laboratory analysis. “That characterized the shattering effect of the explosions,” Gen. Albayalde said.

The PNP chief said that the Abu Sayyaf had mounted terror bombings and kidnappings to gain the attention of the Islamic State and their foreign supporters. “It’s the very same reason why they pledged allegiance to ISIS. They are seeking funding and they are bombing, kidnapping and murdering targets to get funds from the ISIS,” he said.

Gen. Albayalde said that apart from seeking foreign funding, the extremist group is also getting money from their kidnapping-for-ransom and extortion activities.  He  added they are doing all they can to prevent the Abu Sayyaf from getting financial assistance from their foreign donors.

“We are looking at the many things they do in order to funnel out funds and need to know who gets the money here. We’re asking the help of our foreign counterparts here, the Anti-Money Laundering Council and other authorities in order to identify their bank accounts and other sources of fund which we need to freeze,” he said.