Two news items are suggestive of how security threats are managed in a country which is conscious of its image, but oblivious to the necessity of cleaning up its act to efficiently combat terrorism. First, this item from Reuters which describes a routine attack on ordinary Filipinos by Islamic militants. But its political significance lies in its possible relationship to threats against the 16 regional heads of state due in the Philippines to attend a summit.
Suspected Islamic militants set off a bomb near a fast-food restaurant in the southern Philippines on Friday wounding two people, police said. Officials said a crude bomb exploded near the restaurant in Cotabato City, one of the larger cities on the southern island of Mindanao, where the government is battling long-running Muslim and communist insurgencies. ... Police spokesman Samson Obatay said they suspected members of local Muslim terrorist group Abu Sayyaf and regional network Jemaah Islamiah could be behind the attack. "We have intercepted a report that they will carry out attacks in major cities in Mindanao, including our city,"
In its normally surrealistic way, the Philippine government acknowledges a security threat posed by terrorists to the summit and while simultaneously going on to deny it.
The bomb attack came as President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was meeting with top defense and military officials in Manila's main military camp, ordering them to defeat all security threats facing the archipelago before she steps down in 2010. The Philippines has been on alert against possible militant attacks ahead of a gathering of 16 leaders from East Asia next week on the central island of Cebu, a month after the meetings were postponed, ostensibly due to a typhoon.
The British and Australian governments had warned militants were planning to attack the summit in December but the Philippine government has denied the meeting was canceled because of security concerns. The British, Australian and Canadian embassies in Manila still advise their citizens against traveling to Cebu but Manila has insisted there is no security threat.
What the Reuters story misses is picked up by the AFP. At least one terrorist is acknowledged to be stalking the forthcoming summit. And as you would expect, the terrorist was already in custody except a corrupt official released him. Now they are looking for him again.
The Philippines has launched a nationwide manhunt for an alleged Vietnamese-American terrorist who could pose a threat to Asian leaders during summits here next week. Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez said police were attempting to find fugitive Vihn Nguyen Tan before the ASEAN and East Asia summits amid a warning from Canada of a possible terror attack during the meets.
"In view of the uncertainty as to his whereabouts, it may be assumed that he has not left the Philippines and therefore poses a threat to the forthcoming ASEAN summit," Gonzalez said.
Tan, 51, who is also known as Vo Van Duc, is the alleged leader of the Free Vietnam Revolutionary Group. He was arrested at a suburban house in the capital Manila in 2001 while allegedly assembling a bomb for use in attacking the Vietnamese embassy here.
Duc was serving a four-year sentence when in 2005 he was illegally freed by corrupt immigration officials who gave him a Filipino passport. Efforts since to locate him have been futile, and three immigration officials are now being investigated for the fiasco. Immigration officials "cannot state with clarity if Vo Van Duc really left the country," Gonzalez said.
That's the way counterterrorism happens in the far corners of the world. Of course if Vo Van Duc's name were Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, USMC, and the Left had set out to make an example of him, there might be more interest in keeping him in jail. Or at least more eyes watching him. But it's a sad fact that money, not diplomacy, is the key to all doors in many third world countries. If you have ever wondered why dead terrorists are often found with tens of thousands of US dollars on their persons: stop wondering. Money is omnipotent in certain places if you have it handy and know how to use it. A blind man can really get a license; and if it were only possible the lame would walk and the long-buried would rise from very their graves if only some corrupt official could find a way to do it. For terrorists, a corrupt officialdom provides an ideal environment in which to operate. Consider how the Fathur Rahman al-Ghozi, the right hand man of JI leader Hambali, and a man who had killed 22 Filipinos, including children, besides attempting to destroy a clutch of Western embassies simply walked out of jail in July, 2003. The Asia Times has the details:
MANILA - How did Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi escape from the Philippine National Police (PNP) prison compound last week? It would appear that he simply walked out.
On July 14, the Indonesian Jema'ah Islamiyah (JI) bomb expert, along with two other inmates, members of the Abu Sayyaf bandit group, apparently unlocked their cell with a set of spare keys, relocked it, walked out of the jail building and through the prison gates, and used a small guardhouse to vault over the compound wall. Of the four guards detailed in al-Ghozi's area, one was sleeping; another was out shopping. Nevertheless, the guards managed to register their hourly head count as complete.
It was the inmate remaining in al-Ghozi's cell - apparently left behind because of bad blood with one of the Filipino escapees - who notified the guards of the escape. They refused to believe him, however, because the cell remained padlocked. Only when a new set of guards arrived five hours later was the escape discovered; and only hours after that - allowing al-Ghozi a full half-day head start - was the news reported to Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. She had just met with Australian Prime Minister John Howard to discuss joint counter-terrorism initiatives.
When al-Ghozi next met unidentified raiders a few months later, presumably on the strength of intelligence, he never had a chance to offer anyone anything, being killed nearly on the spot, a circumstance that aroused the ire and outrage of the Philippine Left, which alleged that he was executed. The official story is that he died while trying to escape.
On 12 October 2003, it was reported that al-Ghozi was killed during a police shootout in Mindanao. According to reports, the authorities received a tip that al-Ghozi was travelling near Pigcauayan. A military checkpoint was set up, but the jeep transporting al-Ghozi rammed through the roadblock and a gun battle ensued. Soldiers shot al-Ghozi while he was attempting to detonate a hand grenade; he died on the way to a nearby clinic.
Western readers sometimes presume that foreign agents coordinating with officials in the host country get things done by talking to this or that minister and sealing things with a manly handshake with the attending general just like they do in the UN documentaries. I wonder if this is true. In my experience, to be really effective in a third world country one must build up a private network of local operators loyal to you personally. Not to an ideology or to a country but to you, individually and personally. You must be a godfather to their children, their drinking buddy at the saloon and their banker of last resort when their wife gets sick. Until you have been invited to warble with them with the Magic Sing Karaoke you really haven't been accepted. Terrorists know this. Thus, Al-Ghozi built up a private network of guards who would set him free. And he walked. It's possible that persons unknown may have built up a network of raiders who would in turn ensure that al-Ghozi would never escape again. Touche.