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The Philippine branch of terror

Al Qaeda is believed to have given initial funding to the now-independent Abu Sayyaf militant group.

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There are so many links between the Abu Sayyaf Group of the Philippines, which beheaded an American hostage a few months ago, and Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorist network, that on paper they look like the route map for a Peshawar-based airline.

The links run from that high, bleak border city in Pakistan to terrorist dens in Afghanistan and Yemen; to murders and bombings in the Philippines; to the first attack on the World Trade Center; to a foiled attempt to assassinate the pope during a 1995 visit to Manila.

A captured Abu Sayyaf guerrilla, Edwin Angeles, told Philippines investigators that year that a brother-in-law of Mr. bin Laden, Mohammad Jamal Khalifa, played a crucial role in founding Abu Sayyaf.

In his debriefing, Mr. Angeles, who has since been assassinated, reportedly said Mr. Khalifa channeled bin Laden money to Abu Sayyaf through charities he was running in the Philippines.

These threads, taken together, provide the impetus for the claims of some US officials that the group is an annex of Al Qaeda. And they explain why, over the past week, US military advisers have been arriving in the southern Philippines to open America's first non-Afghan front in its war on terrorism. The US officers will provide intelligence assistance, training, and equipment to a Filipino rapid-reaction force.

But interviews with diplomats, intelligence sources, government officials, and militants show that while the group may have received seed capital from bin Laden, it has long since moved out on its own, making their separate activities all the more difficult to combat.

"The Abu Sayyaf isn't going to go away if bin Laden is captured," says Marithes Vitug, author of "Under the Crescent Moon," a book on radical Islamic politics in the Philippines.

Different motives and methods

Today, Abu Sayyaf has evolved into a self-funding and self-reliant criminal organization that terrorism experts say has radically different methods, means, and motivations from Al Qaeda.

The group favors wrap-around sunglasses and Levis instead of flowing Arab robes. Philippines officials describe Abu Sayyaf as a kidnap-for-ransom racket, more in the tradition of the pirates who have plagued the region for centuries than warriors fighting for bin Laden's dream of a pan-Islamic state.


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