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Profile: Romeo Ricardo
Romeo Ricardo was a participant or observer in the following events:
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
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