MANILA, Philippines (AP) — A Philippine judge has acquitted three Indonesian terror suspects and ordered their deportation, saying they were illegally arrested for carrying guns and explosives at a southern seaport nine years ago.
Judge Eleuterio Bathan said the three men were arrested by police without warrants in December 2004 after arriving by ferry in Zamboanga city. He said the TNT, grenade and pistol seized from them could not be used as evidence because they were found in an illegal search. A copy of the Monday ruling was seen Tuesday by The Associated Press.
Bathan ordered the men, who police believed were members of the Southeast Asian militant network Jemaah Islamiyah, to be deported.
Mohammad Yusuf Karim Faiz, Mohammad Nasir Hamid and Ted Yolanda had pleaded innocent in the long-running court case in 2008.
"The government's drive against terrorism and owners or possessors of illegal firearms needs the support of every citizen," Bathan said. But he added that such a security campaign should not undermine the fundamental rights of people.
Police should always respect those rights, Bathan said, "otherwise, their good intentions will remain as such simply because they have blundered."
The Indonesians said they were carrying copies of the Koran and not weapons on a trip to the southern Philippines to spread Islam. They said they did not have passports because they thought they were not required.
A Filipino militant arrested with the Indonesians was freed on bail but disappeared, Bathan said.
The militant was believed to have rejoined his armed group, the brutal Abu Sayyaf, on southern Jolo island but was reportedly killed by his comrades on suspicion he had turned into a government spy, a senior Philippine anti-terrorism official said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of his work.
U.S.-backed military offensives have crippled the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf in recent years, but it remains a key security threat. Washington lists the group as a terrorist organization.
The Philippine police and military say the Abu Sayyaf provided sanctuary and training grounds to Jemaah Islamiyah members in an alliance that started in the mid-2000 and has since been weakened by U.S.-backed Philippine offensives.