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Wednesday, October 9, 2002

 

A TIMES EXCLUSIVE

Zambo bomb suspect held

Top cop officials linked to Hamas ‘member’

 
Bureau of Immigration (BI) agents took into custody Monday night Mohammad Amin Al-Ghafari, a Jordanian tagged by Zamboanga military intelligence men as a mastermind of the Oct. 2 bombing near a military camp in Zamboanga City.

Immigration officials stressed they took in Al-Ghafari, of Palestinian birth, not as a suspect in the bombing, but as an illegal alien who has violated the country’s immigration laws.

Police have dismissed the military claim linking Al-Ghafari to the blast that killed three persons, including a US Green Beret, and injured 21 others. Investigators say there is hardly any proof of his involvement in the bombing.

But an advance report of The Philippine Graphic’s Oct. 21 issue notes that the latest twist in the campaign against terrorism finds top police officials in the spotlight as alleged protectors of suspected terrorists.

According to the Graphic article, Al-Ghafari has been a mainstay in intelligence reports since 1995 — the year Philippine police uncovered the germ of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. But as intelligence officers tried to track him down, Deputy Director-General Rex Piad and other ranking police officials were trying to shield him.

Graphic Managing Editor (and former Manila Times associate editor) Inday Espina-Varona interviewed Piad, who confirmed he helped Al-Ghafari get two clearances, including one early this year, from the PNP Directorate for Intelligence.

These clearances allowed the Jordanian to extend his Philippine visa.

This, despite Al-Ghafari’s apparent role as successor to Jamal Khalifa. Khalifa, a brother-in-law of Osama bin Laden, once operated the biggest Islamic charity network in the country and Southeast Asia.

Khalifa was arrested in 1995, shortly after police broke open a network led by Ramzi Youssef, suspected mastermind of the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, and his “uncle,” Khalid Shaik Mohammad, said to be al-Qaida’s top man in Asia.

The Graphic report also names Piad, and retired generals Eduardo Cuadra and Percival Adiong as directors of the Islamic Wisdom Worldwide Mission (IWWM), a foundation headed by Al-Ghafari and a suspected conduit of funds for terrorist operations.

Piad admitted the allegation but defended IWWM, saying that police have yet to charge any member or director of the foundation.

Piad, a Balik-Islam since 1995, said he joined IWWM after his first jihad in 1995. It was Cuadra who invited him to join, Piad said.

Cuadra formerly headed the PNP’s Region 1 office, where organizations allied to IWWM have built several mosques, including one inside the Philippine Military Academy (PMA).

The Graphic quotes Piad as saying charity work is a basic pillar of the Islamic faith. The weekly news magazine also cautions that linking the three Muslim generals to alleged terrorist fronts may be a knee-jerk reaction on the part of local intelligence operatives.

“I say nothing is wrong with that,” Piad told the Graphic. “If they have a case (against IWWM), they should file it in court.”

Piad did not deny granting Al-Ghafari favors. Following is an excerpt from the Graphic report:

“He came to me and asked for assistance,” Piad said. “It was not really a pressing problem, but every time he needed an extension for his visa, it reflected that he is a subject of investigation.”

Piad insisted the reports on the IWWM were “not really derogatory.”

“He came to me. I tried to help and find out what the DI’s holdings were. Wala naman. What the BI needed was for the PNP to submit a new list.”

But the new list, issued May 2002, still included Al-Ghafari and the IWWM as suspected financiers of extremist groups.

Intelligence documents link Al-Ghafari to Ahmed Dawud Santos, head of the Rajah Sulaiman Movement, which ran the madaris in Pangasinan which were raided last May. Police reported seizing guns and explosives equipment from several minor scho­lars of the Pangasinan schools.

Intelligence sources also told the Graphic that Al-Ghafari met with Santos and other radicals in Baguio, after Sept. 11. A tape of that meeting, sources claimed, reveals the group gloating over the attacks that killed more than 3,000 people.

Hamas link

Piad admitted he was already chief of staff of the PNP when he last helped Al-Ghafari.

“He said somebody was conducting surveillance on him,” Piad said.

“I endorsed him to NICA (National Intelligence Coordinating Agency) for investigation. He was investigated and was issued a clearance, I think,” he said. “I told him to clear yourself, you have to submit yourself to investigation.”

The police general also insisted no PNP colleague had confronted him about IWWM’s alleged terrorist links.

Cataluna also said BI only gave Al-Ghafari a certificate attesting no case had been filed against him.

“We only certified that he has no case filed against him. That certification was based on the records of our counter-security intelligence chief,” he pointed out.

Asked why officials did not consider the nume­rous dossiers on Al-Ghafari, Cataluna said intelligence reports do not have the same weight as actual cases filed.

Army intelligence men have tied Al-Ghafari to the extremist Palestinian group Hamas, but police sleuths say it is his brother who is a member of Hamas.

However, intelligence documents dating to 1995 point to his foundation’s headquarters in Quiapo as a gathering place for suspected Hamas sympathi­zers.

In Camp Crame, the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) yesterday said it has identified the suspect in the Zamboanga City bombing, describing him as a member of the Abu Sayyaf faction belonging to Khadaffy Janjalani.

CIDG Director Chief Supt. Eduardo Matillano emphasized that “no foreign terrorists were involved” in the bombing.

He refused to identify the suspect, saying that divulging it could compromise follow-up operations.

Matillano said two waitresses in a nearby restaurant saw the suspect park the motorcycle believed to be packed with explosives in front of a karaoke bar.

Police traced the motorcycle to a certain Kenneth Pang, a resident of Al-Jareeh Apartment in Bgy. Tumaga, Zamboanga City.

Matillano said Pang sold the motorcycle to an individual he refused to identify.

He said the CIDG is looking for two more people affiliated with the Abu Sayyaf, who planned the attack.

US Army Sergeant Mark Wayne Jackson and two Filipinos, one of them believed to be the bomber, were killed in the attack.
With John Anthony Concepcion, Roland Ramos, William B. Depasupil and Reuters

   
 
 
 

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Francis Andaya, Judee Perculeza, Marizhen Doctora
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