Profile: Aquilino Pimentel
Aquilino Pimentel was a participant or observer in the following events:
The core of the future Philippine militant group Abu Sayyaf fights with bin Laden in Afghanistan and its training there is paid for by the CIA and Pakistani ISI. In 1986, the CIA agreed to support an ISI program of recruiting radical Muslims from other countries, including the Philippines, to fight in the Afghan war (see 1985-1986). By one estimate, initially between 300 and 500 radical Muslims from the southern Philippines go to Afghanistan to fight. [Strategic Studies Institute of the US Army War College, 9/1/2005 ] In 1987 or 1988, bin Laden dispatches his brother-in-law Mohammed Jamal Khalifa to the Philippines to find more recruits willing to go to Afghanistan. It is estimated he finds about 1,000 recruits. One of them is Abdurajak Janjalani, who emerges as the leader of these recruits in Afghanistan. When the Afghan war ends in 1989 most of them will return to the Philippines and form the Abu Sayyaf group, still led by Janjalani (see Early 1991). [Contemporary Southeast Asia, 12/1/2002; Manila Times, 2/1/2007] Journalist John Cooley will write in a book first published in 1999 that Abu Sayyaf will become “the most violent and radical Islamist group in the Far East, using its CIA and ISI training to harass, attack, and murder Christian priests, wealthy non-Muslim plantation-owners, and merchants and local government in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao.” [Cooley, 2002, pp. 63] After having read Cooley’s book and gathering information from other sources, Senator Aquilino Pimentel, President of the Philippine Senate, will say in a 2000 speech that the “CIA has sired a monster” because it helped train this core of the Abu Sayyaf. [Senator Aquilino Q. Pimentel website, 7/31/2000]
Devastation after the raid on Ipil. [Source: Romeo Gacad / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images]The Abu Sayyaf, a Muslim militant group, attacks the Christian town of Ipil in the Southern Philippines. About 200 militants burn, loot, and shoot inside the town for hours, killing 53 and withdrawing with 30 hostages. In 2001, the Independent calls this the group’s “bloodiest and most shocking attack.” [Washington Post, 5/25/1995; Independent, 3/4/2001] Edwin Angeles is an undercover operative for the Philippine government while also serving as Abu Sayyaf’s second in command (see 1991-Early February 1995). Although Angeles’ undercover status was exposed in February 1995 (see Early February 1995), he claims to still have been in the group when the raid was planned. He says the raid was to test a new group of recruits recently returned from training in Pakistan, and to rob several banks. [Washington Post, 5/25/1995] Aquilino Pimentel, president of the Philippines Senate, will later allege that Angeles told him later in 1995 that the Philippine government provided the Abu Sayyaf with military vehicles, mortars, and assorted firearms to assist them with the raid. [Senator Aquilino Q. Pimentel website, 7/31/2000] At this time, the Philippine government is unpopular due to a recent scandal and is attempting to pass an anti-terrorism bill. The government has sometimes been accused of manipulating the Abu Sayyaf for Machiavellian purposes (see 1994, July 31, 2000, and July 27-28, 2003).
Aquilino Pimentel. [Source: Publicity photo from Aquilino Pimentel website.]Senator Aquilino Pimentel, president of the Philippines Senate, accuses the Philippine government of collusion with the Muslim militant group Abu Sayyaf. He cites research that names two high police officers, Leandro Mendoza and Rodolfo Mendoza, as handlers for Abu Sayyaf informants. He also names Brig. Gen. Guillermo Ruiz, commanding general of the Filipino Marines in the early 1990s, as someone who colluded with the group, even splitting profits from illegal logging with them. Pimentel says, “My information is that the Abu Sayyaf partisans were given military intelligence services IDs, safe-houses, safe-conduct passes, firearms, cell phones and various sorts of financial support.” He accuses officials of manipulating the Abu Sayyaf “in the game of divide and rule as far as the Muslim insurgency is concerned.” He also accuses the CIA of helping to create the Abu Sayyaf, saying, “For what the Abu Sayyaf has become, the CIA must merit our people’s condemnation. The CIA has sired a monster that has caused a lot problems for the country…” He says Abu Sayyaf’s handlers “passed on military equipment and funds from the CIA and its support network…” He claims witnesses have come to him with evidence but are afraid of speaking out publicly. He concludes that “any Filipino who had a hand in the creation, training and equipping of the Abu Sayyaf should be held to account for high treason and other crimes.” [Senator Aquilino Q. Pimentel website, 7/31/2000]
From left to right: Omar Opik Lasal, Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, and Abdulmukim Edris. [Source: All three pictures Agence France-Presse / Getty Images]Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, said to be an important operative for both al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah, al-Qaeda’s Southeast Asian affiliate, escapes from Camp Crame, the highest security prison in the Philippines. Two Abu Sayyaf figures, Omar Opik Lasal and Abdulmukim Edris, escape with him. There are many oddities about their escape:
The three men apparently have a spare set of keys, unlock their cell door, relock it, walk out of the jail building and through the prison gates, and then use a small guardhouse to vault over a compound wall. Additionally, the cell door was so rusted that it could simply be lifted by its hinges and moved aside. The nearest guards are either sleeping or out shopping. A prisoner left behind tries to notify the guards about the escape, but is ignored. Only when the guards are changed five hours later is the escape discovered, and many more hours pass before Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and other top leaders are notified. All four guards on duty at the time of the escape will later fail lie detectors tests. One will say they were set up by higher-ups to take the fall. [Asia Times, 7/26/2003]
The janitor in the prison at the time is Cosain Ramos (a.k.a. Abu Ali). Ramos worked with major al-Qaeda figure, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law, and was part of Konsonjaya, a front company run by Hambali used to fund the 1995 Bojinka plot. He had given al-Ghozi explosives which were used in a 2000 bombing. After he was arrested in 2002, not only was he not charged, but he was made a protected witness and given the janitor job (see Shortly Before December 24, 2000). [Ressa, 2003, pp. 136; Gulf News, 6/10/2003; Australian, 7/18/2003]
Lasal will be rearrested on October 8, 2003, and will admit, “I am a government asset, a deep penetration agent.” He will say he helped the Philippine military track al-Ghozi after the escape. He says he joined Abu Sayyaf in 1992 and soon began informing on the group. He claims he has a brother and a cousin who were informants on Abu Sayyaf as well. “Wherever we went, the military knew our whereabouts, because I was giving them the information.” He is seen after his rearrest walking into Manila’s Hall of Justice without any handcuffs on and only one escort. [Philippine Daily Inquirer, 10/15/2003] He will be arrested in 2007 and then let go after it is reported he was confused with his cousin and in fact is in a witness protection program. [Philippine Daily Inquirer, 3/20/2007]
One week after the escape, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reports that Edris, the alleged leader of the Abu Sayyaf’s explosives team, has long-time links to the Philippine military and police. A police intelligence source says that he has been a government asset since 1994. He had been arrested in November 2002 and proclaimed “the No. 1 bomber of the Abu Sayyaf” by the Philippine president. Edris was implicated by other captured Abu Sayyaf suspects as the mastermind of a series of bombings in Zamboanga City in October and November 2002 that killed over a dozen people, including a US Green Beret. [Philippine Daily Inquirer, 7/23/2003]
Supt. Reuben Galban, chief of the police Intelligence Group’s Foreign Intelligence Liaison Office, is fired after failing a lie detector test about the escape. He fails questions about planning the escape and getting paid for it. An intelligence source will claim that Galban and Senior Supt. Romeo Ricardo were in on the escape as handlers for Edris, one of the escapees and an alleged government informant. Ricardo does not take a lie detector test. The source claims: “Edris was deliberately delivered to Al-Ghozi for them to develop trust and confidence. It’s what we call in the intelligence community as human agents manipulation but what is so wrong in this case was the fact that they did it at the expense of the national security.” A police investigator admits that this angle is being pursued as a theory to explain the escape, but “no target would justify the humiliation brought about by this incident.” [Philippine Daily Inquirer, 7/23/2003] Galban was at the prison outside of his usual hours during the escape, which took place in the middle of the night. He also had recently moved al-Ghozi from a secure floor in the prison to the least secure floor. [Asia Times, 7/26/2003]
Six officers of the Philippine National Police’s Intelligence Group are charged with graft and gross negligence in relation to the escape. Galban is one of those charged but Ricardo is not. [Manila Bulletin, 7/25/2003] However, about one month after the escape, an investigative team concludes there was no collusion between any officials and the escapees. Apparently the charges against the six officers are quietly dropped. Twenty police or intelligence officers are fired, but no higher-up officials. [Asia Times, 7/26/2003; Manila Sun Star, 8/28/2003]
Intelligence agents from the Armed Forces Anti-Crime Task Force (ACTAF) will later implicate police director Eduardo Matillano in the escape. Two intelligence agents will be caught monitoring Matillano’s house one week after the escape. Armed Forces chief Gen. Narciso Abaya will say of the agents, “Somebody gave them a license plate number of a car allegedly connected with the escape of al-Ghozi and they traced it to the home of Matillano.” Mantillano threatens to press charges against the ACTAF, but apparently does not do so. He also is not fired. [Asia Pulse, 7/22/2003]
Edris and al-Ghozi will be shot and killed in August and October 2003 respectively by Philippine authorities (see October 12, 2003). Supposedly they are killed while resisting being rearrested. But many, including Aquilino Pimentel, president of the Philippines Senate, will suggest they were both summarily executed after being arrested in order to silence them from potentially revealing their confederates in the escape. [Manila Bulletin, 10/18/2003]
Some elements in the Philippine military are so suspicious about the circumstances of the escape that two weeks later they stage a mutiny to protest this and other issues. They claim the Philippine government has been manipulating rebel groups and even staging or allowing terrorist bombings to manipulate the population (see July 27-28, 2003).
Entity Tags: Aquilino Pimentel, Romeo Ricardo, Cosain Ramos, Abdulmukim Edris, Al-Qaeda, Abu Sayyaf, Reuben Galban, Omar Opik Lasal, Eduardo Matillano, Philippine National Police, Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, Narciso Abaya, Jemaah Islamiyah
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, said to be an important operative for both al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah, al-Qaeda’s Southeast Asian affiliate, is shot and killed by government forces in the Philippines. Al-Ghozi had escaped from a high-security prison in July 2003, along with two Abu Sayyaf militants. There are many questions about the escape, including suggestions that both of his fellow escapees, Omar Opik Lasal and Abdulmukim Edris, were long-time government informants (see July 14, 2003). Edris was killed in early August 2003. Supposedly he was arrested and then volunteered to show soldiers where al-Ghozi was hiding out. Along the way, he attempted to grab a weapon from a soldier and was shot. [BBC, 8/7/2003] His death came about two weeks after it was reported that he was a government informant. [Philippine Daily Inquirer, 7/23/2003] Lasal was rearrested on October 8, 2003. He will later admit that he was an informant and helped the government keep tabs on where al-Ghozi was hiding. [Philippine Daily Inquirer, 10/15/2003] Al-Ghozi is said to be shot while attempting to evade soldiers on a highway near a town in the southern Philippines, a heavily Muslim area. However, police officers and residents in the area say there is no sign of a firefight. The Sydney Morning Herald will later says this “fuel[s] rumors that al-Ghozi had already been captured and then killed at the best time to boost [the Philippines]‘s anti-terrorism image.” The governor of the area, said residents say they didn’t hear any shootout. “There were only two shots heard. There was no firefight.” Al-Ghozi’s death comes just six days before President Bush is scheduled to visit the Philippines, causing some to claim that the killing was timed for maximum political effect. [Sydney Morning Herald, 10/14/2003] Aquilino Pimentel, president of the Philippines Senate, will suggest that both Edris and al-Ghozi were summarily executed after being arrested in order to silence them from potentially revealing their confederates in their prison escape. [Manila Bulletin, 10/18/2003]
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