Abu Sayyaf claims Valentine's Day bombings

The Abu Sayyaf, the Muslim militant group that claimed responsibility for a series of Valentine’s Day bombings in the Philippines, has been blamed for the country’s worst terrorist attacks.

The group was founded in the early 1990s with seed money from Saudi-born September 11 terror mastermind Osama bin Laden, and has waged a bombing and kidnapping campaign over the past decade.

Abu Sayyaf senior leader Abu Solaiman went on radio in Manila late on Monday to claim responsibility for the bombings of buses in Manila and the southern city of Davao and a shopping mall in the southern city of General Santos, which killed 11 people and left 83 others injured.

“We will find any means to inflict more harm to your people’s lives and properties, Allah willing,” he said in a statement read over the telephone.

“We will not stop until we get justice for the countless Muslim lives and properties that your people have destroyed. May the almighty Allah punish your nation again through our hands.”

The bombings came nearly a year after the group last February firebombed a passenger ferry with more than 800 people on board on Manila Bay, killing more than 100 people in the worst known terrorist attack in the Philippines.

Founded by Abdurajak Janjalani, a Filipino Muslim veteran of the anti-Soviet Afghan Mujahedin guerrilla campaign in the 1980s, it set up shop as loosely organised groups of several hundred gunmen on the depressed, mainly Muslim southern Philippine islands of Jolo and Basilan.

The government claims the militants sought shelter among some of several Muslim separatist guerrilla groups operating in the south.

The Abu Sayyaf came to international attention in April 2000 when it raided the Malaysian tourist resort of Sipadan island and took 21 Western and Asian hostages, whom they shipped to Jolo and ransomed off for millions of dollars after nearly a year in captivity.

A Basilan-based faction raided a western Philippine island resort the following year and abducted a group of tourists including three Americans, two of whom later died in captivity.

The act earned the Abu Sayyaf a spot on the “foreign terrorist organisation” blacklist of the United States State Department, and President Gloria Arroyo accepted an offer by US President George Bush to send Special Forces advisers to train Filipino troops in counter-terrorism.

The training later helped flush the gunmen out of their Jolo and Basilan lairs and the third American hostage, Christian missionary Gracia Burnham, was rescued by Filipino troops on the southern island of Mindanao in June 2002.

The Abu Sayyaf has been largely quiescent since the ferry attack, as the military went on the offensive and killed off or arrested many of its senior leaders.

However, the military campaign stepped on the toes of a Muslim rebel faction, touching off a week-old rebellion that has claimed at least 75 lives so far and displaced about 17 000 civilians.

Military officials said the rebel faction, loyal to jailed Muslim politician and former separatist rebel leader Nur Misuari, joined forces with the Abu Sayyaf to fight the military.

Security forces had been stepping up security elsewhere in the country to prevent a spillover of the violence, which observers said could eventually threaten Manila’s peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a separatist guerrilla group in the south.

However, they had not reckoned on bombing attacks elsewhere in the country.

Following Monday’s bombings, presidential spokesperson Ignacio Bunye said Arroyo called on Filipinos to “brace themselves against these attacks on our freedom and security”.—Sapa-AFP

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