Philippine violence surging against U.S.?

By WND Staff

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An explosion in the southern Philippines today is strong indication that the Islamic militant group, Abu Sayyaf, is reshaping as Washington moves to fortify its “second front” on the war on terror, reports Stratfor, the global intelligence company.

The blast killed at least two people, including a U.S. soldier, and injured more than a dozen other people. According to local media reports, a homemade bomb mounted on a motorcycle exploded outside a karaoke bar frequented by U.S. and Philippine soldiers.

The attack comes a week after the top leader of the rebel Abu Sayyaf group, Khadaffy Janjalani, called on “all believers in the oneness of Allah” to strike at both foreign and domestic enemies of Islam and their property. Janjalani is trying to redefine the Abu Sayyaf as the core of the Islamic militant movement in the southern Philippines – reshaping a group that had degraded into a loose collection of kidnap-for-ransom gangs.

This could present a renewed challenge to the Philippine military and U.S. soldiers in the country. Although the Abu Sayyaf is now a much smaller organization than it once was, it may be able to attract disgruntled militants from the larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) or the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) by emphasizing its renewed ideological focus.

In late July, U.S. and Philippine soldiers completed Balikatan 02-1, a six-month training exercise that focused on tracking down and destroying the Abu Sayyaf. Several hundred U.S. forces remained in the Philippines afterward to continue humanitarian and monitoring activities. These are the forces that apparently were targets in the latest bombing.

Meanwhile, the U.S. presence in the Philippines is growing. Next week, an additional 600 U.S. Marines are scheduled to arrive on the northern island of Luzon for Talon Vision 02 exercises, which focus on interoperability of Philippine and U.S. air and ground forces. Next year, a larger contingent of U.S. forces will take part in joint counterterrorism exercises – also on Luzon.

The U.S. presence in the country is part of Washington’s “second front” in the war against terrorism. U.S. intelligence officials have identified Southeast Asia as having the largest concentration of al-Qaida and related groups outside of Afghanistan and Pakistan. And U.S. and regional intelligence and military officials have uncovered a web of connections among militant Islamists in the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and beyond.

Although the Philippines was the first country in the region to welcome the return of U.S. forces with open arms, Washington’s involvement there has stirred political controversy in Manila and raised the ire of groups like the Abu Sayyaf.

The militant organization has been battered by Philippine troops over the past year, and one of its most charismatic leaders, Abu Sabaya, was killed during a joint military operation in June. The remaining commanders now are struggling for power and fighting for survival.

This internal bickering has been a consistent theme for the Abu Sayyaf since the December 1998 death of its founder, Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani. At that time, the group was torn between those seeking to continue the religious campaign for an independent Islamic state in the southern Philippines and those who focused more on kidnapping for ransom than on any ideological mission.

It would seem that Khadaffy Janjalani, the brother of the group’s founder, is now reasserting control over the Abu Sayyaf and trying to return it to its more ideological roots. Since the intensified military crackdown on the Abu Sayyaf began, the group has found it difficult to recruit new members – but by returning to its fundamentalist roots, leaders hope its numbers will grow.

These new recruits may come from the MILF, the MNLF or other militant factions. Also, the Philippine military is concerned that illegal Philippine immigrants returning from Malaysia also may become a ready pool of recruits since they are coming from more fundamentalist Islamic areas of Malaysia and have no jobs or prospects back in the Philippines.

If the Abu Sayyaf succeeds in gaining new, more committed recruits, the attack on the U.S. soldiers may be just the first shot in a renewed bombing campaign targeting U.S. forces rather than Filipino citizens and businesses. This may strain the Philippine Armed Forces – which recently launched a new assault on communist rebels in the central Philippines – and will make U.S. deployments to the country significantly more dangerous.

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