For years Abdul Basir Latip, alleged co-founder of terrorist group Abu Sayyaf, remained under the radar of Philippine authorities. It was not until the US tipped them off two months ago that Latip's links to not only the local terror group became apparent but also his connections to al-Qaeda. As well as being a suspected senior member of Abu Sayyaf, Latip is accused of being its banker, channelling money from Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, al-Qaeda's financier and one of the United States' most-wanted men before his death in 2007. In an interview with the South China Morning Post, Latip denied being a conduit for funding between Khalifa and Abu Sayyaf. But he eulogised Khalifa and explained at length his close friendship with him as well as with two other known terrorists killed in joint operations by Philippines and the US. Latip also denied being a member of Abu Sayyaf but said he supported their cause. The 51-year-old is locked up in a holding cell at the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). He is fighting an extradition request by the US for the 1993 hostage-taking of US protestant missionary Charles Walton and has a US$1.5 million bounty on his head. With his mild manner and gentle voice, the bald and bearded Latip does not look or sound anything like a key terrorist figure. 'That's mere facade. You don't know what's really inside him,' Ricardo Diaz, NBI's counter-terrorist unit chief, said. During the interview, Latip revealed his close friendship with Khalifa, brother-in-law of al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, Abu Sayyaf founder Abdurajak Janjalani, and the latter's successor and youngest brother, Khaddafy Janjalani. All three are dead now. Abdurajak and Khaddafy were killed by security forces in 1998 and in 2006 in Mindanao, while Khalifa died in 2007 after buying diamonds in South Africa. Latip accuses the US of killing him but the circumstances of his death are unclear. 'It was as if I lost the world because he was so dear to me,' Latip said. 'The house where I was staying in Zamboanga city was a donation from him. He made me great in Zamboanga by also appointing me deputy director of two Islamic institutions [there].' What sealed the friendship with Khalifa, besides a shared belief in 'Islamic revivalism', was his first Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, which was paid for and arranged by the wealthy Saudi businessman. At the time of the 1989 trip, Latip was the newly-elected president of a Muslim youth organisation called the Jamaa Tabligh, formed by Abdurajak Janjalani. Latip said the group's aim was to rally fellow Muslims to 'go back to the fundamentals of Islam' as taught by Hassan al-Banna, an Egyptian Islamist reformist who founded the Muslim Brotherhood. During the Hajj, he said he and two companions slept in the palatial home of Khalifa's wife, Ummu Saleem, a sister of bin Laden and a first cousin of the king of Saudi Arabia. They were escorted by a nephew of Khalifa's wife to the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina, where the Prophet's tomb lay. They did not pass the visitors' gate but used 'a secret passage' reserved for the royal family and high government personages. Khalifa appointed Latip the administrator of Al Makhdum University in Zamboanga, which he also funded. Being far from the city, it failed to attract enough enrolment, Latip said. He denied that it was a cover for laundering funds intended for Abu Sayyaf. In late 2006, he said Khalifa contacted him and asked him to return to Saudi Arabia, ostensibly on a pilgrimage. At the time he was immersed in language studies in Syria so it was not until February 2007 that he was able to go to Medina. He was surprised Khalifa did not meet him at the airport and days later, after calling around, a friend of Khalifa told him: 'Did you not know he was killed? He went to South Africa to buy diamonds.' US authorities had long tagged Khalifa as the 'financier and facilitator' of al-Qaeda's global operations, including providing seed money of 12million pesos (HK$1.99 million) to form Abu Sayyaf, funding a 1995 plot to assassinate Pope John Paul II in Manila, as well as plot to crash planes into US buildings, also in 1995. The concept was revived by al-Qaeda in 2001, which resulted in the September 11 attacks in the US. 'Because of my close friendship with Khalifa, they [the US] accused me of being the financier of the Abu Sayyaf,' Latip said. He also admitted he was close to Abu Sayyaf founder and chief Abdurajak, and his successor Khaddafy, who were both his boyhood neighbours and playmates. However, he denied co-founding the Abu Sayyaf or even being a member. 'I am with the members but I am not a member of the Abu Sayyaf. I usually go with them, talk with them, play with them, but I never joined their jihadist purpose, [which is to] arm themselves against the soldiers of the Philippine government.' Latip said he found nothing wrong with beheadings or kidnappings and cited verses from the Koran as justification. He said the 300-strong Abu Sayyaf believes only the establishment of a separate state would enable them to practise Islam. A passage in the Koran orders them to do this. 'Don't let the Jews or the Nazarani [Christians] be your ruler,' Latip said. 'It's not that I want to have a separate state. I want that Islamic laws be fully implemented in our country, particularly in Mindanao.' The US accuses Latip of involvement in the 1993 kidnapping of Walton, who was later released unharmed. Latip denied he played any part, but Diaz's deputy, Roger Sususco, said a prominent birthmark on Latip's left temple had identified him as one of the kidnappers. Latip was detained in Jordan for 15 months over his alleged involvement in the kidnapping but was later released. He then flew to Jakarta in November last year, where he was arrested at the airport for holding a fake passport. A month later Indonesian authorities deported him to Manila. Diaz confirmed that Latip was never a wanted man by Philippine authorities. They only became aware of his link with al-Qaeda after the US tipped them off in November.