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|Innocent Muslims killed as Bush allies 'crusade'|
|02/03/02 at 10:52:41|
Innocent Muslims killed as Bush allies 'crusade'
Shootings and torture by security forces are spreading fear in the Philippines, the new flashpoint in the US war. Film-makers Jonathan Miller and Rob Lemkin report
Sunday February 3, 2002
Syed Kaing Mabbul was a coconut farmer on the exquisitely beautiful island of Basilan in the southern Philippines, the hottest new target in President George W. Bush's global war on terrorism.
His misfortune, his mother told us, is that he has the same name as a commander of the Abu Sayyaf, a bloodthirsty group of Islamic extremists financed by robbery, piracy, ransom and - in the past, at least - by Osama bin Laden.
About 150 Americans, the advance party of a force of about 650, are already in the southern Philippines for a six-month 'military' exercise that began formally last Thursday. Their task is to train Filipino soldiers how better to fight Abu Sayyaf, and to rescue kidnapped missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham of Wichita, Kansas, who have been in captivity for eight months.
Syed fled the island last May, and has been living in a lean-to shack on the outskirts of Zamboanga City, on the island of Mindanao, about 15 miles north of Basilan across a turquoise sea.
Local Muslims took us to meet Syed's mother, Azirah Mabhul. She told us he had been betrayed to the army by seven fellow Muslims who had split a bounty of a million pesos (about £14,000).
'They picked up my son at 8am,' she told us. 'They brought him to Malagutay Brigade Camp, blindfolded him, beat him, stripped him, then hung him upside down for eight hours. They inserted ground-up chilli paste into his rectum to force him to confess to belonging to Abu Sayyaf.'
Azirah said that when she finally located her son, he still couldn't sit down. 'Mum,' he said, 'I just can't take the pain any more.'
In mid-December, Syed Kaing Mabbul was taken, with 79 other terrorist suspects, to a high security jail in the capital, Manila. He hasn't been heard from since.
It was impossible to confirm his story, but Muslim community leaders vouched for his innocence. His case is one of many accounts of harassment, indiscriminate arrest, disappearances, routine torture and killing now producing growing concern over 'gross and rampant human rights violations' against Muslim civilians.
Human rights leaders point the finger at the America's new ally in its global war, the Philippine armed forces. Since 11 September, they say, incidents of abuse have grown, and there is a palpable climate of fear.
'We are the ones who are living in terror,' said the imam of a mosque in a squalid Muslim ghetto on the edge of Zamboanga City. 'This war against terror is just the latest campaign in a 400-year crusade against Islam,' he said, echoing the convictions of the wider Islamic world.
Although the Philippines' five million Muslims comprise a minority in Asia's only Roman Catholic country, they no longer feel on the fringe of the global Islamic community.
Syed's case was just one 'among hundreds,' said Zenaida Sabaani-Lawi, director of Murid, a Muslim organisation which provides micro-finance to local women. 'There have been killings too. It's been getting worse since 11 September. It's as if they now have a licence,' she said. 'This is state terror.'
· Jonathan Miller's and Rob Lemkin's film, 'Bearers of the Sword', can be seen on 'Unreported World', on Channel 4 at 7.30pm on Friday.
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