Islamic Suicide Cells in the Philippines
An Islamic suicide bomber who planned to target Americans was captured in the Philippines. The Manila Standard reports:
Police arrested a member of the Rajah Solaiman Islamic Movement involved in the Feb. 14, 2005 bus bombing in Makati City on Wednesday while hiding in Tagkawayan, Quezon, officials said yesterday. Three people were killed and 103 others were injured in the attack.
Tagkawayan Quezon is an Communist insurgent-ridden area in Northern Luzon, far from the traditional haunts of Islamic extremism. But the suspect is also unusual in other ways. First, the suspect is an Islamic convert. Secondly, he belonged to the MILF, a group long suspected of links to the JI and Osama Bin Laden, but with which the government of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is engaged in peace talks. These talks mean that they are considered off limits to all-out suppression and that their members may be arrested only if suspected of an actual crime. Here is a link to a news article describing the MILF speaking openly in Cotabato City. To further muddy the waters, the suspect was a member of a sub-cell called the "Rajah Solaiman Islamic Movement (RSIM), allegedly composed of radical converts to Islam." So what exactly does this group stand for?
National Police Chief Oscar Calderon identified the suspect as Ricardo Ayeras alias Abdul Kareem Ayeras, a Christian who converted into Islam and then trained with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. He said Ayeras was personally chosen by movement leader Hilarion Santos as a member of his core group tasked to bomb key establishments in Metro Manila, in particular those frequented by Americans. Calderon said the movement picked the Rajah Solaiman Park in Malate, Manila, as one of its targets during Holy Week of 2005 because foreigners had been frequenting it.
Third, "Ricardo Ayeras alias Abdul Kareem Ayeras" was after heads of state. And he had big time explosives to attack them with. "It appeared that the suspect drove about 600 kg of explosives and stacked them at the movement’s safe house in Fairview, Quezon City, for the group’s bombing mission. Chief Supt. Romeo Ricardo, head of the National Police’s Intelligence Group, said Ayeras’s arrest was part of a campaign to ensure the safety of the Asean meetings in Cebu City." The Rajah Soliman Islamic Movement is described at length by the Jamestown Foundation. There are some things to note: it has Saudi connections and Chechen and JI links. And with the arrest of one of its men in Tagkawayan, there may even be Leftist connections.
The reputed commander of the RSRM is Ahmed Santos, who was born Hilarion del Rosario Santos III into a landed and squarely Catholic family in 1971 and who took the Islamic testimony of faith 20 years later while working in Riyadh (The Manila Times, November 17, 2003). Also acting as the ostensible and self-defined leader of BI, Santos was arrested in October 2005 and charged with inciting rebellion against the Philippine state (which is a non-bailable offense in the Philippines). He is currently being held in a maximum security facility located at the military's sprawling Camp Aguinaldo complex in Manila. Local sources maintain that while Santos almost certainly remains the undisputed leader of the RSRM, responsibility for the day-to-day running of the group now falls to Sheikh Omar Lavilla (formerly known as Reuben Lavilla)—a shadowy figure with a degree in chemical engineering who is thought to have participated in the Chechen jihad (author interviews with security and intelligence officials, Manila, March and November 2005).
The RSRM is small, probably constituting no more than 50-100 hard-core activists. Despite its size, the group has demonstrated both a willingness and ability to "strike well above its weight," and is now known to have played an important role in some of the more high-profile assaults and plots that have taken place in the Philippines since 2004. The most notable include:
- The 2004 partial sinking of SuperFerry 14, which with 116 fatalities remains the most destructive act of maritime terrorism in the modern age.
- Synchronized bombings in February 2005 that targeted civilian-centric venues in Manila, General Santos City and Davao City.
- A multi-dimensional plan discovered the following month that was allegedly to have involved truck bomb attacks against either the U.S. or Saudi embassies in Manila; mass and light rail transit tracks and stations across the capital region; and nightclubs, restaurants and other venues popular with Western businessmen and tourists in the central commercial district of Makati (author interviews with security and intelligence officials, Manila, March 2006).