Muslim separatists in the Philippines say they are cooperating with the government to hunt down two of Southeast Asia's most wanted terror suspects, who are believed to be hiding out in the country.
|MILF rebel slings his M16 rifle as he mans a checkpoint |
Philippine security officials say two leading Indonesian militants are hiding on Mindanao island in the south of the country, near the stronghold areas of the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front, known as MILF.
The militants are Umar Patek and Dulmatin. They are wanted for their alleged involvement in the 2002 Bali bombings, which killed more than 200 people.
They are also allegedly members of the Southeast Asian terror network Jemaah Islamiyah. Dulmatin, who is known by a dozen other aliases, is suspected of being a top bomb maker.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which has fought for an independent Islamic homeland in the southern Philippines for more than three decades, has been engaged in peace talks with the government since 2001. The reported cooperation with the government against the two Indonesians is seen as a gesture towards the peace process.
Rebel spokesman Eid Kabalu said the organization is working with the government to track the men down.
Mr. Kabalu says rebel commanders report that the Indonesians have teamed up with another local Muslim extremist group, Abu Sayyaf, and are moving from one camp to another every few days to avoid capture.
The deputy Philippine national security adviser, Virtus Gil, says the militants' presence in the country suggests Jemaah Islamiyah may have moved its strategic base from Indonesia to the predominantly Muslim areas of Mindanao. Security officials have accused renegade MILF commanders of training foreign militants.
A number of Indonesian militants have been arrested in the Philippines during the past three years.
Fathur Rohman Al Ghozi, convicted of a 2000 train bombing in Manila, was killed by security personnel in 2003, while Rohmat, alleged JI liaison officer with the Abu Sayyaf, was arrested in March.
Jemaah Islamiyah wants to create an Islamic state across several countries of Southeast Asia.
Last month, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick warned that the security situation in Mindanao remains dangerous, because of the apparent link between local militant groups and international terrorists. Washington has helped fund Manila's counterterrorism efforts since the war on terrorism started in 2001.
Meanwhile, a court in Indonesia sentenced the wife of another leading terror suspect to three years in prison for withholding information about him. The man, a Malaysian named Noordin Mohamed Top, is believed to have masterminded a series of bombings in Indonesia, including the Bali bombings and an attack on the J.W. Marriott hotel in Jakarta in 2003.