Bin laden death seen to batter Filipino extremists

AP News
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Posted: May 03, 2011 5:46 AM
Bin laden death seen to batter Filipino extremists

Philippine security officials said Tuesday they expect Osama bin Laden's death to weaken local Islamic extremists and lead to their elimination, but a captured Abu Sayyaf commander said his comrades have hardly been affected by previous foreign setbacks.

The military and police have strengthened security in the southern Mindanao region, where the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf has waged attacks for years, but have not monitored any specific threats arising from the U.S. military assault that killed the al Qaida leader early Monday in Pakistan.

President Benigno Aquino III said he would convene a security meeting Wednesday to assess possible threats from local militants that could arise from bin Laden's killing and warned the public against complacency. Police have deployed extra men to guard the U.S. and other Western embassies.

More than 500 American troops have been helping Filipino counterparts fight the militants with weapons, combat training and intelligence for nearly a decade. The Abu Sayyaf, which has an estimated 410 fighters, is listed by Washington as a terrorist organization for bombings, kidnappings and beheadings.

"The demise of the principal patron of terrorism and the isolation of these terrorists will subsequently bring about their decimation and total elimination," the Philippine Department of National Defense said.

Military spokesman Miguel Jose Rodriguez said Abu Sayyaf militants lost an inspirational leader and a sense of invincibility with bin Laden's death.

However, Abu Hamdie, a captured Abu Sayyaf commander now under the government's witness protection program, said his former group has hardly been affected by previous outside events and has largely survived on its own.

Militants in the Southeast Asian network Jemaah Islamiyah and other groups have provided funds and training, but even that support has waned in past years, he said.

Although isolated in their remote jungle camps, the Abu Sayyaf militants have always monitored news reports through cellphones and battery-powered radios.

Struggling to survive each day, the militants have staged bombings and kidnappings mainly to extort money or attract foreign financial support, not because of any outrage over losses suffered by militants outside the country, he said.

"I don't remember the group staging any such sympathy attacks when I was there," Hamdie said.

Since bin Laden's demise was exceptionally big news, the Abu Sayyaf may stage a rare retaliatory attack if Jemaah Islamiyah, which has a more direct link to al-Qaida, backs them with funds and a plan, he said.

A government threat assessment report recently seen by The Associated Press said the Abu Sayyaf has grappled in recent years with funding problems, the loss of several leaders and factionalism but remains a key concern. Desperate for funds, the militants have even targeted people hardly able to pay ransoms, it said.

Armed attacks by the militants dropped to 54 last year from 104 in 2009, the report said. The 2010 assaults included 11 kidnappings, which enabled them to raise $704,000 in ransom, it said.