Beach resort proves an idyll for tourists and terrorists alike

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 March, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 March, 2005, 12:00am

A newly uncovered plot by Islamic militants to bomb Manila's oil depot, foreign embassies and shopping malls has once more focused attention on the sleepy coastal city of Talisay.

To tourists, Talisay - a half-hour ride by car from booming Cebu City in the central Philippines - is known for beach resorts.

But to dynamite fishermen and an increasing number of Muslim mujahedeen, it is an easy source of blasting caps, or detonators, as well as ammonium nitrate used in explosives.

Environmental lawyer Antonio Oposa said yesterday: 'We have reports that blasting caps from Talisay are being exported to Sulawesi in Indonesia.'

He said these were mainly used for dynamite fishing, which Filipino fishermen had taught their Indonesian counterparts.

But he warned authorities that the lethal devices and explosive materials were also falling into the hands of terrorist groups such as the southern Philippine-based Abu Sayyaf and the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) network, which operates across Southeast Asia.

The recent Valentine's Day bomb blast in Makati City, in metropolitan Manila, has been established as being the handiwork of the Abu Sayyaf.

Police intelligence group chief Roberto Delfin said the blasting cap used came from Cebu, via the Abu Sayyaf's base in Basilan, in the southern Philippines.

A source from the breakaway Moro National Liberation Front faction confirmed that the Abu Sayyaf had bought its blasting caps from Cebu.

Abu Sayyaf commanders, including leader Khaddafy Janjalani, go to Cebu regularly. Janjalani was once caught disembarking from a ferry in Cebu but later managed to escape his detention cell in Manila.

The first firm evidence of the Talisay connection to bombings was provided three years ago by confessed JI liaison officer Fathur Rohman Al-Ghozi. Mr Delfin confirmed they had traced Ghozi's explosives to Talisay.

Ghozi, who was killed two years ago after escaping from jail, had confessed to authorities that he had bought blasting caps, detonating cords and 50kg to 80kg of explosives in Cebu. These were used in the 2000 Rizal Day bombing in Manila that killed 11 people.

He also bought 1,200kg of ammonium nitrate there 'to be used in our fight against the Singaporean government'. Police later seized it.

Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia said Talisay's thriving underground cottage industry was being investigated.

'Last year we issued a warning in Talisay to those involved in manufacturing blasting caps to shift to another livelihood project.

'They requested a three-month reprieve,' Ms Garcia said.

'It seems after this warning they transferred to another island.'

Mr Oposa's environmental group raised a 250,000 peso ($36,000) livelihood fund for Talisay 'but nobody applied'. 'Nobody wanted to come out and say 'we are making blasting caps'.'