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News, documents and analysis on violent extremism

Sunday, May 9, 2004

al Qaeda Linked to Recruitment of Cebu Christians as Terrorists

By J.M. Berger

Since the mid-1990s, al Qaeda-linked charities in Manila and Cebu City have been recruiting Christians first as Muslim converts and then as potential terrorists, according to a new investigation by Philippines authorities.

The Fi Sabilillah Da'wah and Media Foundation has been tied to a radical Islamic movement that seeks to convert Christians to Islam, then recruits them into a militant sect, according to the Straits Times and the Associated Press.

The conversion movement, known as Balik Islam, teaches that converts are actually "reverting" to Islam, their true religon, according to the Philippines Center for Investigative Journalism.

The Fi Sabilillah Da'wah and Media Foundation is tied to Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, a brother-in-law of Osama bin Laden, according to the Straits Times.

"Christians whom they have converted into Muslims are being used. This means that they are using people who are familiar with Manila, Cebu and other Christian-dominated centres," Philippines National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales said, as quoted in the Straits Times. (Link)

During the early 1990s, accused Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols made several trips to Cebu, where he met and married a local woman through a "mail order bride" service. Ramzi Yousef also traveled to Cebu during the same period, although there has never been conclusive proof of a connection between the two. (Link)

In May 1993, the Islamic Da'wah Council of the Philippines hosted Clement Rodney Hampton-El as a guest at a conference in Manila. According to a Philippines government investigative report obtained by law firm Motley Rice, Khalifa was deeply involved in the formation of the Council.

A U.S.-born convert to Islam, Hampton-El recruited U.S. veterans as terrorist operatives, according to testimony and evidence presented at his 1995 trial for an al Qaeda-linked plot to blow up New York City landmarks (US v. Rahman, S5 93 Cr. 18, August 2, 1995; Link to related story) The aborted 1993 plot would have used improvised ammonium nitrate explosives similar to those successfully employed in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. (Link)

Hampton-El testified that he received instructions from representatives of the Saudi government and that the May 1993 conference was sponsored by wealthy Saudis. According to evidence presented at his trial, Hampton-El told his co-conspirators that he visited terrorist training camps in the south of the Philippines during the 1993 visit.

Khalifa was arrested in December 1994 outside San Francisco on a visa violation. He was in U.S. custody at the time of the Oklahoma City bombing. Immediately after the bombing, Khalifa struck a deal with the INS in which he agreed to be deported to Jordan, despite his suspected connections to several open investigations into terrorist attacks on the U.S.

One of those planned attacks involved a terrorist cell run by Yousef in the Philippines, which U.S. authorities now claim was funded by Khalifa. The supected connection was cited in numerous 1995 media reports on Khalifa's arrest. One member of that cell told a prison guard on April 19 and the FBI on April 20 that Yousef's terror organization was responsible for the OKC bombing.

Khalifa has consistently denied ever having any connection to terrorism, despite extensive media reports and repeated allegations by both the U.S. and Philippines governments. He recently filed a legal action seeking to have his name removed from a suit by law firm Motley Rice which seeks reparations from Saudi Arabian nationals for their alleged roles in the September 11 attack on America.

External Links

  • Associated Press story on recruitment

  • Straits Times story on recruitment

  • Philippines Center for Investigative Journalism story on Balik Islam

    INTELWIRE Exclusives

  • Linking Terry Nichols to Ramzi Yousef

  • Exposed: Al Qaeda's Plot To Recruit U.S. Servicemen

  • McVeigh, Nichols made moves on key dates in al Qaeda recruitment plot

  • Special Section: al Qaeda and the OKC Bombing


    Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.



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    INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


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