Thursday, August 3, 2017

ISIS threat looms over Manila meet

From The Standard (Aug 3): ISIS threat looms over Manila meet

THE United States, one of three nations which provided surveillance aircraft for the government in Marawi City, envisions a dangerous level of threats from the Islamic State to the Philippines and other Asian countries, a senior official from Washington has said.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson projected such threats ahead of his four-day Asean tour intended to formulate a mechanism that would address the ISIS threats.

‘‘We see elements of ISIS in the Philippines, as you’re aware, gaining a foothold. Some of these fighters have gone to the Philippines from Syria and Iraq,” Tillerson told a press briefing at the White House Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila).

ISIS stands for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and is an extremist militant group that rules by Wahhabi/Salafi law.

In Arabic, the group is also known as Daesh. An example of ISIS is the terrorist group that is known for kidnapping western journalists and aid workers as part of their tactics.

The two other countries which have provided surveillance aircaft are Australia and Japan.

Tillerson, who will have a five-day official travel to Manila, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur starting this weekend, told reporters they were currently in dialogue with officials in the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore to address the threats and how to prevent them.

‘‘I think our next steps on the global war to defeat ISIS are to recognize ISIS is a global issue,” Tillerson said.

In Manila, Tillerson is to participate in the Asean Regional Forum, the East Asia Summit Ministerial, the US-Asean Ministerial, and the Lower Mekong Initiative Ministerial conferences.

During these meetings, Tillerson will meet with his counterparts and discuss several issues including the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, maritime security, and counterterrorism.

After his engagement in Manila, Tillerson will then fly to Thailand to visit the tomb of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and engage Thai officials on the enduring US-Thailand partnership and regional issues.

In Kuala Lumpur, he will meet officials to discuss strengthening cooperation on issues regarding the 60th year of US-Malaysia bilateral relations.

Officials said Tillerson’s trip reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to further broaden and enhance U.S. economic and security interests in the Asia-Pacific region.

In related developments:

• President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday night briefed the Senate and House leaders during a three-hour meeting about renewed terror threats posed by the ISIS in Mindanao that would require an additional 20,000 soldiers.

Senator Franklin Drilon told reporters: “He [the President] informed us of the renewed threats because the Secretary of National Defense has requested for additional manpower and, therefore, that would require budgetary allocation.”

“And he [President] is looking for a closer regional cooperation in the neighboring countries, particularly Indonesia,” said Drilon.

Asked abouf fhe seriousness of the new threats, Drilon said based on the President’s briefing, “ it appears to be serious..There’s a real threat.”

“From what I understood, around three areas are under threat,” said Senator Vicente Sotto III who refused to identify the areas under new terror threats.

‘‘I’d rather wait for the President to tell you. The issues are very sensitive and I’m not authorized to divulge,” he added.

Senator Panfilo Lacson also said he gave assurances in terms of legislation and were willing to help the President quell the threats.

He said this could be done by increasing the troop ceiling of the AFP and the PNP.

“We’re talking here of something like 20,000 more troops for the AFP and around 10,000 for PNP,” added the former PNP chief.

The President placed Mindanao under martial law last May 23 after clashes erupted between government troops and the Maute terrorist group in Marawi City. It was extended until the end of the year.

The meeting, also attended by House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, was held two weeks after Congress, in joint session, approved the President’s request to extend martial law in Mindanao until December 2017.

• Intelligence reports gathered in Mindanao suggested a concerted effort by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, Abu Sayyaf Group and some groups of rogue Moro rebels eyeing “sympathy attacks” in some key cities in Mindanao, similar to what the Maute Group and ASG did in Marawi City the AFP was battling to date.

Military sources, speaking on condition they would not be identified, confirmed the “terror plots” being monitored in Mindanao.

In May 2015, the MILF claimed responsibility in Usman’s death in Guindulungan, Maguindanao, more than three months after Marwan was killed by the Special Action Force in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

The January Mamasapano incident claimed the lives of 44 SAF men after they were ambushed and pinned down “pintakasi style” by MILF rebels and private armed groups.

Meanwhile, the shooting of a helicopter Saturday which carried Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu was a challenge to a growing campaign against terrorism in Central Mindanao.

Mangudadatu said the chopper was on a flight altitude of about 1,000 feet (304.88 meters) when the single-shot attack occurred.

The governor had boarded the chartered flight of the Aerworkz-owned helicopter, hit by a single bullet probably fired from an M-14 rifle, police said.

Ground police investigation blamed the attack on a Bangsamoro Freedom Fighters faction which has reportedly pledged allegiance to the ISIS, along with the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups.

The pro-ISIS BIFF faction is a breakaway group reportedly under Abu Torrete.

Sr. Supt. Agustin Tello, provincial police director, said initial probe had narrowed down the possible point-of-origin of the trajectory bullet to those from BIFF groups in their areas.

Mangudadatu told police he was to deliver his keynote message at a youth summit against violent religious extremism, held in Camp Brig Gen Gonzalo F Siongco in Awang, Datu Odin, Sinsuat, Maguindanao.

It’s evidently an open challenge to our intensified collective campaign against extremism and the proliferation of illegal drugs trade,” Mangudadatu said.

Earlier, Gen. Eduardo Año, AFP Chief of Staff, told a Joint-Session of Congress that “sniper bullets fell on the landing area” as the Executive Helicopter landed in Camp Ranao when President Duterte visited Marawi City on July 20.

Año said that happened even though the site of armed clashes in Marawi City was some two kilometers away.

Recently, the US donated two Cessna surveillance planes to the Philippines aimed at enhancing the military’s capability to defeat the terrorists who are still in two villages in Marawi City.

‘‘We are in conversations with the Philippine government, with Indonesia, with Malaysia, with Singapore, with Australia, as partners to recognize this threat, try to get ahead of this threat, and help them with training- training their own law enforcement capabilities, sharing of intelligence, and provide them wherewithal to anticipate what may be coming their direction,” Tillerson disclosed.

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