MANILA -- Two of Southeast Asia's deadliest Islamic militant groups are collaborating in the southern Philippines to train extremists in explosives, weapons, and combat tactics, graduating 23 Indonesian recruits just over a week ago, a jailed terror suspect said yesterday.
The jungles in the south are also providing refuge to terrorists involved in major attacks elsewhere in the region, including the 2002 bombings on the Indonesian island of Bali, the prisoner said in an interview.
US officials have long worried that unrest in the Philippines' impoverished Muslim homeland could be exploited by terror groups. The suspect, Rohmat, who like many Indonesians uses only one name, provided a glimpse into the workings of the liaison between the Southeast Asian group Jemaah Islamiyah and the Philippines' Abu Sayyaf movement, which authorities say has links to Al Qaeda.
Rohmat, a 26-year-old Jemaah Islamiyah member who was captured March 16, said he roamed with Abu Sayyaf guerrillas for about two years, providing combat training, dodging military assaults together, and overhearing their terror plots. He spoke in Tagalog, one of the official languages of the Philippines, a sign of the depth of his immersion there. He said recruits at the Jabal Qubah training camp run by Jemaah Islamiyah on Mindanao Island finished their studies just days before he was caught at a checkpoint.
''There were 23 men who have just finished the courses. I heard they would be sent back home and others would stay behind to train a new batch," a handcuffed Rohmat said during a 30-minute interview at a military safe house.
He said a separate group of 10 Indonesians from Jemaah Islamiyah -- including two suspects in the Bali bombings that killed 202 people -- were with Abu Sayyaf guerrillas near the camp, but that he did not know why.
He said he was at a meeting where Abu Sayyaf leaders Khaddafy Janjalani and Abu Sulaiman plotted Feb. 14 bombings that killed eight people and injured more than 100 in Manila and two cities in the south. They have also ordered Easter bombings in Manila and one of two southern cities, probably Davao, he said.