photographed by Susanne Haerpfer; photo-equipment by Stefan Oeking

“Future war fans tensions with China and inside Pentagon”, the prestigious Washington Post titled recently. Referring to newly constructed military relevant technology on Chinese-controlled Subi Reef, around 15 nautical miles northwest of the Philippine-controlled Pag-asa Islands on the disputed Spratly Islands”.

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The article draws attention to a region relevant for the terror attacks of September 11 th in 2001.

Apart from the infamous so-called “Bojinka plot”, allegedly laying the trail for the attacks to come, the Philippines should be regarded as proxy for as well the conflict as well as cooperation between Muslim communities and Chinese. On Mindanao, the Zulu islands and Jolo (infamous for the hostage taking of the German family Wallert on a Malaysian resort to the Philippine island) fierce fightings took a toll on the population. Military influence as well as conventional fishing rights, logging, gold and interests in property rights is the driving force for alliances and wars carried out in that region.

Local militias act on behalf of families with centuries old tradition as well as newly emerging powers, living in Manila, capital town of mainland Luzon. Moreover this form of organization of watering down brutal violence can be traced to the Western hemisphere. Either direct relatives as well as their deputies handle as well their legitimate as well as non-legitimate businesses and interests. In New York the conflicts between rival families and gangs regularly lead to hostage takings and other criminal acts. For the citizens of New York many names to be regarded as exotic terror groups, just known to experts are quite familiar. No need to do what international news agencies decided to do: “We just call them Abu Sayyaf”, confessed the editor in chief of an international wire service by phone with me, the author Susanne Haerpfer. He explained that the real names and real background would have been too complicated to understand for most of the US citizens. With potential fatal consequences. `cause: groups being not named cannot be associated and thus not be reported. After terror attacks as those in 2001 majority is asking why one hasn´t known befor.

The Washington Post takes the first steps to change that. Reporting about US military exercises taking place this year “facing the South China Sea, in Puerto Princesa, on Palawan island, south of Manila. The Philippines said war games with the United States, which ended April 27, had showcased its resolve to fend off external aggressors amid an escalating territorial dispute with China.”

The US are still holding the military enclave “Subic bay” on the Philippine main island. Apart from Mindanao it is there that one still can find the last prestine rain forest. US forces trained jungle combat in that zone. US movies covering the Vietnam war have been shot there as well. For a long time the base was used as conversion for international industrial conglomerates. With waging war Subic is converted back into a military strategic compound.


photographed by Susanne Haerpfer at Subic Bay, Philippines

40 followers of Sheik Muhamad Ashaari had travelled to the Zulu sea of the Philippines. Their wherabouts, investments and alliances are to be looked into more thorougly. Branches of the group can be found on a global scale. In Japan, all over the United States of America, Canada and further states branches exist since over a century. The homepages give an impression of a highly organized, well established group at top high tech level. Contrasting to the understatement image of a small local group based in huts of agricultural Malaysia where they officially were banned. In the 90´s this led to the establishment of a group in the south of Thailand. This branch concentrated on precious stones and videotapes. One apartment address where one could order tapes was called Brother Osama, inhabitant of New York. Sheik Ashaari was reported to have died in 2010. According to regional news coverage he was restricted to live on the island Labuan. The tiny island was “discovered” by the Austrian Baron von Overbeck. During World War I and II the island was fought and occupied. Once the save haven for headhunters, it became known as a financial safe heaven for insiders. Together with a journalistic collegue I came across the colorful history of the island in the 90´s; covering it as well for the German GEO magazine as well as for Neues Deutschland. This island is situated between Brunei and the Malaysian province Sabah. We wrote about Brunei for GEO special edition. It is there and then that the group aroused our attention. Extremely fierce and very destinct from other Southeast Asian Muslim communities – “don´t approach to near”, inhabitants of Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB), capital town of Brunei warned us. They had tried to kill our Sultan befor. For that reason they are regarded as expelled to Malaysia. When having come across that group nobody in Germany cared for getting to know more about what seemed to be some obscure sect. Especially as officially there didn´t exist any office officially within Germany at that time. Members of the group suddenly appeared in Hamburg, being on their way to Berlin. From today´s point of perspective one should have had a closer look on that meeting. Maybe now is the right time for an assignment by German or international media for me:


photographed by Susanne Haerpfer at Labuan port.