Part 5 of a series
CAMP Hudaibiyah was far from Abubakar, and it was so named because it was controlled by Indonesian jihadists who trained local extremist groups in Mindanao. the basic demolition training course, including making bombs, improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, and the useof mortar shells, trinitrotoluene (TNT) and chemical mix. According to Abraham, my interviewee, who was sent to train there by his Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) handlers at Camp Abubakar, the Indonesian trainers were Umar Patek, Ustadz Bashir and Ustadz Sulaiman. They both spoke a combination of Tagalog, Maranao, Maguindanao, English and Arabic. Umar Patek was one of the Bali bombers (2000) who had returned to find sanctuary in Mindanao.
Abraham’s companions in the training were Abdul Nasir Kitugi, Abdul Manap Mentang and Morsid alias Arman Mano. For many years, the academy was headed by Afghan war veterans. At the end of the course, the trainees were given diplomas; they were after all considered military academy graduates.
At the start, there were five batches of trainees totaling more than 300. Eventually, many went AWOL and because the place was cold, the rules were strict and the training was difficult. With fewer students, the classes were merged into one. Only 33 from Abraham’s class graduated and were constituted into a “Striking Force” that was assigned to Buldon in Maguindanao for three months.
The JI leaders said that more than a thousand Indonesian mujaheddin had been trained in Camp Hudaibiyah but the numbers were probably far less, Abraham said. In 2000, JI leader, Indonesian Abu Bakar Ba’aysir, visited the MILF camps.
A Jemaah Islamiyah operative named Amin Baco, a Malaysian from Tawao, Sabah, married into a prominent Abu Sayyaf family in Sulu, headed by Sawadjaan, who commanded an ASG faction known as the Tanum group.
Baco was not a JI member but was from the Darul Islam (DI) network in Sabah. In 2003, when Umar Patek and the Malaysian Marwan set up a camp in the Liguasan Marsh in Pawas, Maguindanao, Amin Baco was responsible for meeting Indonesians in Tawao or Sebatik island and bringing them to Pawas for training at the MILF camp.
In 2011, Amin Baco was a wanted terrorist in the Philippines, for facilitating the travel of DI members to Mindanao for training and arms purchases. The Darul Islam cell was led by Abu Umar. The man who purchased the arms was Achmad Izzmi alias Adam. In his July 7, 2011 testimony to the Indonesian police, a copy of which was obtained by the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), Adam recounted being picked up in Tawao on April 26, 2011, and traveling with Baco to Bongao, Tawi-tawi, and to Zamboanga and Jolo where Abu Umar’s son lived. The Philippines has porous boundaries everywhere!
The Malaysan Marwan
Because Marwan (Zulkifli bin Hir) was the focus of the Philippine National Police‘s Special Action Force (SAF) operations from 2010 to 2015 leading to the tragic Oplan Exodus in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, a longer narrative is necessary about “a little snake who had been blown up into a dragon” as a law enforcement target.
Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan, a Kumpulan Mudjahidin Malaysia (KMM) operative, was a Malaysian from Johor. In August 2001, Marwan travelled to Banten in Java and Makassar in South Sulawesi, Indonesia with false identity documents in the name of Hendri Lawi. At the end of August, he took a boat for the Sangihe Islands off the coast of North Sulawesi and from there went to General Santos City on the southern tip of Mindanao and on to Palimbang in Sultan Kudarat province. He was taken to a camp run by Tahir Alonto alias Commander Tigre, a former Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) commander who ran the Pentagon Gang in Saranggani. Jemaah Islamiyah operative Fatur Rahman al-Ghozi was then contacted and Marwan was left in his hands.
Al-Ghozi had worked with the MILF Special Operations Group (SOG) on a deadly series of blasts in Manila on December 30, 2000, the Rizal Day bombings. After providing Marwan sanctuary for some time, al-Ghozi turned him over to Ismail Sulaiman alias Abu Hashim, an MILF commander in Pikit, North Cotabato.
Marwan was never a member of the Jemaah Islamiyah, though he had been radicalized by its Malaysia-based members. He had sharp-shooting skills. But he could not be an IED man. He had the tendency to panic in crisis situations and abhorred sounds of explosives that made him unwanted in battle.
An Abu Sayyaf source related to me in an April 2015 interview in Basilan a bank robbery that the ASG launched in Isabela City in Basilan. The ASG formed two groups led by Marwan and Furuji Indama using two SUVs plastered with candidates’ posters to disguise their arms inside, consisting of high-powered automatic rifles, submachine guns, and bombs.
The team of Marwan, while waiting for the final signal in the Isabela grandstand, about 400 meters from their target, was far too excited and very aggressive. Marwan accidentally leaned on the improvised explosive device (IED) causing it to go off, killing four members of the team. One was captured. Marwan was thrown 10 meters away by the explosion. He and five other companions miraculously survived, but with their hearing impaired. The SUV was totally destroyed.
As police rushed to the area, a fierce gunfight began. The six would-be bank robbers escaped from the city, leaving 27 dead civilians and members of the security forces. After two days of constant hiking in the mountains, the tired and hungry group of Marwan was reported to have been sighted between Barangay Masola and Kapatagan. The military spotted the group and killed three of the six. Marwan, Tirmizi Atalad and Ustadz Muadz survived but lost contact with each other. Marwan, who was injured on his buttocks, hid up on a big tree for almost a week. He used his cell to contact his rescuers. The group of Abu Khubaib found Marwan almost dead under that big tree.
In Mindanao, Umar Patek of the Jemaah Islamiyah was protected by Mokasid Delna alias Abu Badrin, a commander of the MILF’s Special Elite Force. Badrin, who was a close friend, arranged for Patek to build a camp in Pawas, Maguindanao, not far from his home on the edge of Lake Buluan, close to the border of Sultan Kudarat province. It was an ideal location because of access to food. The lake is abundant with fish and ducks.
By early 2004, the camp had some 20 people, although the number fluctuated with people coming and going.
Umar Patek was joined by another Indonesian, Afghan veteran and JI member, Abdul Dulmatin, who bombed the residence of the Philippine Ambassador in Jakarta. Both were involved in the Bali bombings. They were later joined by Muawiyah, an Indian-Singaporean Afghan veteran JI, also identified by authorities as a negotiator for the Abu Sayyaf bandits, who asked to join Umar Patek’s camp and was accepted in early 2004. Australian terrorism expert Kit Collier described Muawiyah, alias Manobo and Mohammad Ali, as a dangerous JI member.
Marwan by this time was getting bored; Abu Hashim would not let him take part in jihad operations. Dulmatin, and Muawiyah shared Marwan’s boredom. Under the conditions that the MILF imposed on the Pawas camp, it was only for training. Its members were not allowed to undertake operations. Umar Patek sent one of his subordinates to pick up Marwan and his family from Pikit, North Cotabato, and bring them to Pawas.
Marwan was known in the Pawas camp as a gun collector. He had an M16, Shotgun 12A, Winchester 22, and an Armalite 15. He also had accessories such as an M9 bayonet that could be inserted on the barrel of an M16 and a Glock bayonet knife. From California, his older brother Rachmat, transferred funds for Marwan to pay for his weapons collection.
The more “fearsome” Marwan’s reputation, the more Philippine security authorities and their United States allies believed that extraordinary measures were required to deal with him. When the intelligence information pinpointed his location, it became imperative to get this man who had grown a monster’s reputation that for the security forces involved, was worth bypassing institutions for the sake of secrecy. He was finally killed by the SAF 84 Seaborne on January 25, 2015, in Mamasapano.
(To be continued)