Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Army declares Ormoc City as insurgency-free

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 13): Army declares Ormoc City as insurgency-free

The Philippine Army, Philippine National Police (PNP) and city government on Monday have declared Ormoc to be a Stable Internal Peace and Security Area upon the recommendation of the joint intelligence coordinating council.

The city passed the criteria for the official declaration under the revised joint implementing rules and regulations to Executive Order (EO) No. 546 in relation to EO No. 110 prescribe the parameters and procedures in declaring a Stable Internal Peace and Security.

These parameters include the Communist Terrorist Movement (CTM) ceased to function as an organized insurgent movement; the CTM threat to stability, peace and order, and development is significantly reduced and relegated to inconsequential level; the actual and potential CTM support systems are cut.

Other criteria are the CTM’s capabilities have been substantially degraded, making it incapable of resurging as an insurgent group capable of waging isolated armed incidents; and the CTM’s effort to infiltrate unaffected areas and sectoral organizations has been prevented.

According to Army’s 802nd Infantry Brigade Commander Col. Francisco Mendoza, Jr., the highest structure of the CTM in Leyte in the early 2000s was the Northern Leyte Front headed by Eastern Visayas Regional Party Committee secretary Bibiano Rentellosa alias “Elmo” and “Tammy.”

The main force operated in the northeast part of the province particularly in Jaro, Carigara and Capoocan towns, while the other forces operated in the northwest area specifically in the hinterlands of Ormoc, Kananga, Matag-ob, Villaba, Calubian, Tabango, San Isidro and Leyte towns.

As a result of the successful Internal Peace and Security Operations of the Army, the Northern Leyte Front lost major guerilla bases particularly in the 3rd and 4th congressional districts.

“Now that the top-ranking officials of EVRPC have been neutralized, some of the members decided to abandon the armed struggle while the others lay low, resulting in the significant decrease of its membership and supporters,” Mendoza said.

Mendoza said they have long regarded Ormoc as a Stable Internal Peace and Security Area, but the declaration should be done jointly with the PNP.

“Peace has already been stable (here) ever since but we cannot do it on our own. It should be a joint agreement. It has a process to go through which took some time to complete,” he added.

“This is a major victory on our part,” Mendoza went on saying. “With this declaration, we are saying that armed elements of our enemy are already reduced to an insignificant level that they could no longer do some terroristic activities and threaten the peace and order of the city.

“They may still be around because this armed group is just roaming around the hinterland villages not just in Ormoc City but other towns, but they’re just passing through. They cannot stay for long because the people are already supporting our side and we have troops that can immediately respond to reports of our civilian stakeholders in the area.”

Mayor Edward Codilla welcomed the declaration, saying it is to Ormoc’s advantage as it signals the city’s readiness for growth and development. More investors will also be attracted to come, knowing that their investment here will be safe and secure here, he continued.


VIDEO | Analyst: PHL govt should reinforce troops in Mindanao

From InterAksyon (Apr 12): VIDEO | Analyst: PHL govt should reinforce troops in Mindanao

In this October 2011 file photo, President Aquino pays his respects to some of the 13 soldiers killed by terrorists in Basilan province. Another grim chapter was added to Basilan's violent history last weekend when 18 soldiers were killed in fierce battles with the Abu Sayyaf. The President will fly to Zamboanga City to visit some of the 56 injured survivors of the carnage. MALACANANG PHOTO BUREAU

Juanita Bancairin can barely stifle a sob as she ponders the tragedy that befell her son, Corporal Rodolfo Bancairin, one of the 18 soldiers slain by the Abu Sayyaf terror group in Basilan last weekend.

His face is barely recognizable, his head having been shattered by bullets, which also shredded parts of his arms and chest.

"It's so painful. He has two small children, and their mother is jobless," Juanita told News5.

Bancairin served 16 years in the Army, a period that saw him assigned several times in the strife-torn Sulu and Basilan areas.

Speaking in the dialect, Juanita said "all the rebels must be eliminated, because so many innocent lives are being dragged into the fray."

The Western Mindanao Command said that besides the 18 soldiers killed by the ASG, 56 others were wounded in pitched battles with the terrorist group, some of whose leaders have pledged "loyalty" to the ISIS - a claim which the government doubts.

An expert believes that, considering the huge blow dealt the government side, the soldiers might have been up not just against the Abu Sayyaf but the ISIS as well.In the assessment that analyst Rohan Gunaratna shared with News5, "ISIS Basilan is determined to expand; ISIS Basilan wants to fight and expand their territory in the Sulu archipelago and spread it to southern Mindanao and also to Samar region."

The government, he said, should thus pour in more resources to combat this threat. It should "station a special operations commander in Basilan and ensure that any group that has pledged allegiance to IS (Islamic State) is contained, isolated, and eliminated."

The AFP, however, continues to tread warily on claims of ISIS affiliation, believing that many homegrown terrorist groups seeking attention or wishing to project themselves as larger than they are will identify with IS to do so.

Major Filemon Tan Jr., spokesperson of the Western Mindanao Command, said: "ISIS is well known in the world right now, so there are some groups that would like to be affiliated with them because they would like to ride on the fame of the group. Maybe [ASG leader] Isnilon Hapilon would like to be recognized by ISIS but ISIS does not recognize this group. There is no direct link, direct proof that Isnilon Hapilon is being recognized by the ISIS."

For his part, Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. issued this statement on behalf of Malacañang Palace: "We understand the grief and pain of the widows and bereaved families of our brave soldiers who fought courageously and died in line of duty."

President Benigno Aquino III is scheduled to visit the wounded soldiers in Zamboanga Wednesday (April 13).


[Video report]

LOOK: Aquino visits soldiers wounded in Abu Sayyaf encounter

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 13): LOOK: Aquino visits soldiers wounded in Abu Sayyaf encounter

Noynoy Aquino
[Adm-02] P-Noy visits the soldiers wounded during an Abu Sayyaf encounter, at a hospital in Zamboanga City.

President Benigno Aquino III on Wednesday visited the soldiers who were injured in a bloody encounter with the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan over the weekend.
The Twitter account of the president (@NoynoyAquino) posted a photo of Aquino at the military hospital inside Camp Navarro in Zamboangao City, the headquarters of the Western Mindanao Command.

“P-Noy visists the soldiers wounded during an Abu Sayyaf encounter, at a hospital in Zamboanga City,” the post said.

The gunfight in Basilan left 18 soldiers and at least 24 Abu Sayyaf fighters dead. The six soldiers that were critically wounded are now in stable condition, according to an earlier report


Troops close in on Sayyaf

From the Philippine Star (Apr 13): Troops close in on Sayyaf

Maj. Filemon Tan Jr., the designated ground spokesman for the ongoing military offensive in Basilan, said troops from the Army’s Special Forces, Rangers and the Light Reaction Company (LRC) were poised to strike against the remaining Abu Sayyaf holed up in the jungles of Tipo-Tipo. Philstar.com file

Government troops are closing in on more than 60 Abu Sayyaf gunmen in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan following last weekend’s bloody clashes that left 18 soldiers dead and 56 wounded.

Maj. Filemon Tan Jr., the designated ground spokesman for the ongoing military offensive in Basilan, said troops from the Army’s Special Forces, Rangers and the Light Reaction Company (LRC) were poised to strike against the remaining Abu Sayyaf holed up in the jungles of Tipo-Tipo.

“Our forces were positioned in tactical area to limit the maneuvering space of the Abu Sayyaf,” Tan said.

He said the military has also placed additional troops on standby and ready to be deployed when needed.

Tan said the troops are running after the remaining 60 Abu Sayyaf led by Isnilon Hapilon and Furuji Indama.

“There is a very large operation going on to get the remnants of this Abu Sayyaf group,” Tan said.

According to Tan, Indama was wounded and was in critical condition following the encounter with government troops.

There were reports that Indama later died from his wounds. Tan, however, said they cannot confirm the information at the moment.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, however, clarified Indama is still alive but in critical condition along with several of his men.

Padilla added 11 more bandits were killed and 20 others wounded as the military continued artillery attacks to soften the known positions of the Abu Sayyaf in the area.

“There’s no significant engagement on the ground yesterday but ground troops are still in the area, continuously delivering suppressive artillery fire,” Padilla said.

He said Indama was hit during last Sunday’s fighting with government troops while trying to retrieve the body of Moroccan terrorist Mohammad Khattab.

There were reports the bandits are now running out of medical supplies to treat their wounded, as soldiers are also closely watching over procurement of trauma medicine in all pharmacies in the province.

As of yesterday, the running total of Abu Sayyaf bandits killed in the last two days of fighting is now at 24. Five were killed on the spot, while four others were critically wounded and subsequently died.

In addition, soldiers also killed four of the bandits in last Sunday’s fighting and 11 more who were critically wounded in the two days of military ground assaults have also died.

“These are the reports coming in from the field, from local government units and from our intelligence operatives on the ground. We have also other ways, which I could not disclose, in getting our reports on the ground,” Padilla said.

The military said the Abu Sayyaf initially suffered 13 killed and 26 others wounded while the government casualty remained at 18 killed and 56 wounded since the encounter Saturday at Barangay Baguindan in Tipo-Tipo.

Malacañang, on the other hand, said it would be “inappropriate” at this point to conduct any investigation on the deaths of 18 soldiers in the Basilan clashes with the Abu Sayyaf.

“It is inappropriate, in the meantime, to probe the encounter on Saturday, as there are still continuing and ongoing operations. The focus is on neutralizing and disabling these lawless elements,” Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said yesterday.

Coloma said the government “understands the grief and pain of the widows and bereaved families of our brave soldiers who fought courageously and died in the line of duty.”

Tan, spokesman for the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), added the President will visit the wake of the fallen troopers in Zamboanga City to extend the government’s sympathy to the bereaved families.

Tan said Aquino is expected to arrive before lunch at Westmincom and will visit the wounded soldiers confined at the Camp Navarro General Hospital.

Army spokesman Col. Benjamin Hao said financial assistance would be handed over to the families of the 18 slain troopers.

The Army is also giving full military honors to the fallen, Hao said.

“Appropriate military honors is the least the Army can do for the men who fought gallantly for the country,” Hao said.

Aquino directed the AFP over the weekend to go after the Abu Sayyaf who killed the 18 soldiers.

Coloma said these were the instructions the commander-in-chief gave AFP chief Gen. Hernando Iriberri and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin during their meeting at Malacañang late Sunday.

“Both officials informed the President that, in accordance with his instructions, pursuit operations are still being conducted and that the troops are fully equipped and adequately supported,” Coloma said.

Padilla added the military operation was coordinated the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), whose camp is located near the scene of fighting.

Barangays Banguindan and Silangkum are also known enclaves of the MILF.

“There’s no MILF fighters who were involved in the fighting. We have coordinated our operations with them and they have withdrawn from these areas,” Padilla said.

Iriberri and Gazmin briefed Aquino about the progress of continuing AFP operations against the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan after their return from Zamboanga City.

“These operations were intensified since December 2015 and have resulted in neutralizing high-value terror suspects, including Malaysian Mohd Najib Hussein (aka Abu Anas), Moroccan Mohammad Khattab and Ubaida Hapilon, son of senior Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon,” Coloma pointed out.


BASILAN ENCOUNTER: Abu Sayyaf fatalities up to 24

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 13): BASILAN ENCOUNTER: Abu Sayyaf fatalities up to 24

THE FATALITIES on the Abu Sayyaf side rose overnight, but their leaders remain alive, with one of them “critically wounded.”

This is the latest update on the continuing clashes between the Armed Forces and the extremist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), which broke out over the weekend in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan, and took the lives of 18 soldiers and left more than 50 wounded.

In a press briefing at Camp Aguinaldo Tuesday, AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla confirmed that 24 ASG members have already been killed in the clashes—a significant increase from the 13 reported on Monday.

The government casualty count remains the same, said Padilla, and the six soldiers reported “critically wounded” are already in stable condition.

Padilla reported no significant engagements since the weekend. He said the military has started utilizing “artillery fire in known ASG positions” in the clash sites.

He attributed the increased fatality count in the Abu Sayyaf to its fighters succumbing to the wounds and injuries that they sustained in the initial encounter with government troops on Saturday and Sunday.

However, the number of bodies retrieved by the military since Saturday has remained at only two—including that of Moroccan terrorist Mohammad Khattab. The other body has yet to be identified.

At noon Tuesday, the military initially reported 25 killed on the Abu Sayyaf side, including Furuji Indama, known as the right-hand man of ASG leader Isnilon Hapilon.Padilla clarified two hours later that Indama was only “critically wounded,” based on reports from the ground.

It was a near-hit for a high-value target. Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said Indama’s “neutralization” was important to “weaken threats.”

Padilla said Indama was Hapilon’s “trusted lieutenant,” and the leader of various ASG subgroups.

However, in an interview with the media on the sidelines of the turnover of new aircraft at the Air Force headquarters at Villamor Airbase Tuesday, Gazmin said the bigger accomplishment was the earlier confirmation of the killing of bomb-maker Khattab.

“We lessened the risk of transferring the technology to make bombs. [In fact], he was wearing a vest lined with explosives [when his body was retrieved],” Gazmin said in Filipino.

“Our heroes sacrificed 18 lives in exchange for the safety of a larger number of civilians,” Padilla said.

Gazmin confirmed reports that Khattab was in the country “to unify all the terrorist groups here and link them with the international terrorist network.”

He did not confirm if Khattab was part of the terrorist Islamic State (IS). Padilla said Khattab’s possible IS link was still being “validated.”

“We recovered a lot of data and material we can study closely, from which we can glean the linkages,” Padilla said.

“We don’t deny there are sympathizers or groups here inspired by IS who pledged allegiance. But still, we are looking for stronger evidence and data saying they are receiving [instructions] and are linked directly to Daesh,” he said.

Meanwhile, Gazmin said that after ceremonies in Zamboanga last Sunday, most of the slain soldiers were sent to their  “home bases” and families, mostly around Mindanao, and that they would be receiving honors in their respective areas.

Padilla added that the benefits for the soldiers’ surviving families were being “fast-tracked.”

Gazmin said that rumors that information had been led to the ASG—leading to the high number of soldiers killed—would be looked into.

But he dismissed allegations that prior coordination with the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), with which the government signed a peace agreement, led to the possible leak. “It’s part of the mechanism. You really have to coordinate [with them]. We’re not at war with them,” he  said.

Soldier dies in clash vs NPA rebels

From the Sun Star-Zamboanga (Apr 11): Soldier dies in clash vs NPA rebels

A SOLDIER was killed in a clash with New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in the province of Zamboanga Sibugay, the police reported Monday.

Superintendent Rogelio Alabata, Police Regional Office-Zamboanga Peninsula information officer, said the clash broke out around 7:15 a.m. in the village of Palinta, Kabasalan, Zamboanga Sibugay.

Alabata said based on the report they received the troops were on security patrol when they encountered a group of NPA rebels.

According to Alabata, the firefight lasted for about 50 minutes after which the NPA rebels fled towards the north direction.

He said the slain soldier was identified as Private First Class Gerald Catalan of the Philippine Army’s 15th Division Reconnaissance Company.

He said all the police stations were placed on alert to and was tasked to closely monitor the situation in coastal areas and safe havens of threat groups.


Army overruns rebel camp in Samar

From the Manila Times (Apr 12): Army overruns rebel camp in Samar

TACLOBAN CITY: Philippine Army’s 20th Infantry Battalion commander, Lt. Col. Hilarion Palma, the New People’s Army (NPA) in Northern Samar suffered a big blow after its camp was overran by troopers recently.

Recovered from a rebel camp in Catoto-ogan village, Las Navas were 10 bunkers and four observation posts, an improvised explosive device, five blasting caps, battery, 12 empty shells of AK47 rifle, 20 empty shells of M16 rifle, personal belongings and foodstuff.

Soldiers uncovered the lair after they caught some rebels planting landmines along the village roadside.

The NPA settlement was seized by 81st Reconnaissance Company under the supervision of 20th IB led by 2nd Lt. Jojo Consorte.


4 abducted sawmill workers freed in Lanao

From the Manila Times (Apr 12): 4 abducted sawmill workers freed in Lanao

Four of the six sawmill workers who were abducted by jihadists in Lanao del Sur last week on suspicion that they were government spies were freed on Monday following series of negotiations.

Philippine Army deputy commander of the Marawi City-based 103rd Infantry Brigade (103IB), Col. Manolo Samarita, confirmed to The Manila Times the release of Julieto Hanobas, also known as (aka) Buloy; Alfredo Anoos aka Isoy, Gabriel Permites, and Adones Mendez.

However, he said, Salvador Hanobas aka Tado and Makol Hanobas aka Macky were still in the hands of the captors, and their status was not certain.

He added that they were still monitoring the situation and verifying reports that the remaining captives were reportedly beheaded.

Samarita said the four, suspected by the group to be spying for the government, were safely released at about 10:15 a.m. in Barangay Sandab, the same place where they were abducted, and were handed over to their employer Haja Anisa Unda accompanied by Butig town Mayor Ibrahim Macadatu.

Negotiations were reportedly conducted by Macadatu, Col. Roseller Murillo of the 41st Infantry Battalion and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leaders who lobbied with young generation jihadists for the safety of the hostages.

The abductors, calling themselves the Dawlah Islamiyah or Islamic State in Lanao headed by Abdullah Maute alias Abu Hasan, demanded the release of their comrade, whom they identified as 13-year-old Ayman, who was allegedly captured by the military last February.

Military and police officials, however, said no jihadist was captured during and after the recent clash in Butig.

Their release came a day after the deadline set by the abductors expired, with threat to decapitate the hostages if their demand failed to be delivered on Sunday.

They also uploaded photos of the hostages wearing prisoners’ orange uniforms similar to the Islamic State (IS’s) captives in Syria and Iraq.

It was learned that the jihadists raised suspicions on spies in Butig after shooting down a military spy drone hovering over their controlled area a day before the abduction on April 4.

The military and other authorities did not comment on the surveillance camera reportedly recovered by the militants.


Zambo siege awardee named special ops chief

From Malaya Business Insight (Apr 12): Zambo siege awardee named special ops chief

AN Army general who played a key role in quelling the Zamboanga siege by  Moro National Liberation Front fighters in September 2013 had been designated as the new commander of the Army’s Special Operations Command.

Brig. Gen. Danilo Gines Pamonag took over as the chief of the elite unit yesterday in rites presided by Army chief Lt. Gen. Eduardo Ano at the SOCOM headquarters in Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija.

Pamonag will remain as the concurrent commander of the US-trained Light Reaction Regiment, pending the appointment of a replacement at the LRR, said Army spokesman Col. Benjamin Hao.

Pamonag was the commander of the military’s Joint Special Operations Group that led the operations against hundreds of MNLF that seized Zamboanga City and held about 160 hostages as part of MNLF’s cause for independence.

Pamonag had been conferred by President Aquino with the Distinguished Conduct Star, the second highest military decoration in combat behind the Medal for Valor, for his feat during the Zamboanga siege.

The operations resulted in the death of at least 200 MNLF fighters and rescue of around 195 civilians held captive by the group. Dozens of soldiers and civilians also died in the 20-day campaign.

Pamonag is a member of the Philippine Military Academy class of 1985 and was the first Filipino awardee of the US Special Operations Command medal. 

Last year, he was selected by the Metrobank Foundation as among the Ten Outstanding Philippine Soldiers in recognition of feat during the Zamboanga siege.

“We expect Brig. Gen. Pamonag to increase the training readiness of the SOCOM. He plans to build a world-class counter-terrorist training facility,” said Hao.

Asked about the qualities of Pamonag that prompted his designation as SOCOM commander, Hao said: “Ang sabi ni CGPA (Commanding General, Philippine Army) is kanyang katapangan at pang-unawa.”


Authorities clueless on Buluan bombing try

From the Manila Times (Apr 11): Authorities clueless on Buluan bombing try

BULUAN, Maguindanao: Authorities here on Monday remain clueless as to the motives and the suspects behind the bombing attempts that could have threatened thousands of people celebrating the town’s 80th founding anniversary.

But officials belied insinuations that the bombing attempt has something to do with politics as election day nears.

Approximately 10,000 people were commemorating the foundation day of Buluan on Saturday with Davao City mayor and presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte when two improvised explosive device (IEDs) were uncovered.

Philippine Army bomb experts recovered the IEDs planted along roadside fences in Barangay Poblacion at about 8:30 p.m., kilometers away from the crowd.

The IEDs were rigged with two plastic bottle containers filled with 2 kilos of black powders, blasting caps, detonating cords, triple AAA batteries, concrete nails, bolts, nuts, wireless remote control and other explosive components.

Buluan Municipal Police Chief Senior Insp. Gani Miro said they are closely looking into the incident to identify the culprits.

Meanwhile, Buluan Vice Mayor King Jhazzer Mangudadatu belied reports that the attempts were related to politics in Maguindanao, which was recently cited as among areas of concern by the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

Mangudadatu, eldest son of Maguindanao Gov. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, did not mention possible culprits but hinted that they usually target camps of government forces.

“It was not a politically motivated attack as the bombs were planted near the police station, away from the crowd,” he said.

The known threat group operating in the province are members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) who have a record of harassing military and police detachments.

It is also feared that the rebel group, which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS), will stage disturbances during the election.


Military continuously shelling ASG positions

From Update.Ph (Apr 12): Military continuously shelling ASG positions  

In the ongoing operations against the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) bandits in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan, a total of 24 terrorists have been been killed since April 9.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla in a Tuesday briefing said the figures came from Western Mindanao Command head Lt. Gen. Mayoralgo Dela Cruz.

Padilla said that all slain bandits were identified by military and police units involved in the operations in Basilan.

He added that it is also possible that many of the 20 ASG earlier wounded in the fight had succumbed to their injuries, adding to the bandits death toll.

Included in the ASG toll was Moroccan terrorist Mohammad Khatttab, an improvised explosive device expert and supposedly a conduit of a “Middle East international terrorist group”.

The former’s body was also recovered by ground units.

As this develops, ASG positions in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan were repeatedly shelled in an effort to soften the bandits and prevent them from resisting troops out to flush them.

“Artillery fire (is) meant to suppress possible resistance that may be on the ground in those areas,” the AFP spokesperson said.

Earlier, both Padilla and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said ASG leader Furuji Indama, who was among the 20 bandits critically wounded in the April 9 battle, was among the bandits who succumbed to their wounds.

But this was corrected as information received from the ground indicated that the bandit leader is still alive despite being critically wounded.

Padilla declined to comment on claims that members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front leaked details of the April 9 operations to the ASG while coordinating with the MILF, adding that he had no data on the matter.

Eighteen soldiers and 53 others were wounded in the more than nine-hour clash between military units and ASG bandits in Barangay Baguidan, Tipo-Tipo last April 9.
The encounter started 7:55 a.m. and lasted until 5: 30 p.m.

There was also an ASG attempt to behead two of the slain soldiers but these were prevented by covering fire of surviving troops, Padilla said.


Jihadists own up to Basilan attack

From the Manila Times (Apr 12): Jihadists own up to Basilan attack

Local and foreign jihadists, calling themselves Jundul Khilafah (JK) or soldiers of the caliphate, claimed responsibility for the attack in Basilan on Saturday.

In owning up to the attack, the group said three of their brothers – Muhammad Khattab Al-Maghribi Al-Muhajir, Wilson Asbi Al-Ansari and a certain Abu Ubaydah Al-Basilaniy – whom they described as martyrs, were confirmed killed in the skirmishes.

In their forum website, the JK said many were also wounded from their side, including their commander Abu Dujana, who sustained slight wound in the forehead.

They also claimed to have recovered from fallen soldiers one dozen of M4 rifles and a 90mm recoilless rifle.

The attack occurred at about 8 a.m. in Sitio Bayoko, Barangay Baguindan, Tipo-Tipo town of Basilan province, in the troubled Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

A nine-hour firefight ensued that lasted until about 4 p.m., when the attackers fled towards different directions in 10 groups.

At least 18 troopers were killed, while more than 50 soldiers were wounded in the firefight.

The soldiers, belonging to the 44th Infantry Battalion, the 4th Special Forces Battalion, and 14 Cavalry units – were attacked while conducting military operations against the ASG headed by Isnilon Hapilon and Indama.

The army recovered the body Asbi and Khattab, wearing a black shirt with IS logo print.

In their recent videos, the group said the ASG has been divided into two factions – Harakatul Islamiyah in Basilan and Jundul Tawhid in Sulu. The JK had aligned themselves with the IS, which declared an Islamic caliphate state in Syria and Iraq in June 2014.

The militants in Basilan are headed by Isnilon Hapilon, while Sulu jihadists are being led by Malaysian national Mohd Amin Baco.

Last month, Baco appeared in a video released online by IS’s Al-Furat Media Foundation, pledging allegiance to the IS’s self-proclaimed caliph along with dozens of young Filipino militants.

“We Jundul Tawhid, affiliate of the ASG, are joining Abu Abdullah al-Filibini [or Isnilon Hapilon] under Jundul Khilafah in the Philippines and under the vision of Khilafah Islamiyah that are following the leader and caliph of Muslims Al-Sheikh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Husseini al-Qurashi,” Baco said as he read a script written in the Arabic language.

Baco has been in the country for years and traveling in different parts of Mindanao.

He was sighted in Maguindanao together with Zulkifli Bin Hir alias Marwan and Abdul Basit Usman and other members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), prior the infamous Mamasapano tragic operation in January 2015.

He was first seen in Lanao del Sur with the militant group Khilafah Islamiyah Movement (KIM), now known as Dawlah Islamiyah or Islamic State in Lanao, being led by Abdullah Maute alias Abu Hasan.

Baco’s recent video succeeded another video last January of his fellow national Mohd Najib Husen alias Abu Annas Al Muhajir, division head of the Ansar al-Sharia of the IS.

Husen was killed in Basilan when his forces engaged with the military last December. The IS’s Al-Furat Media Foundation confirmed his death.

Husen had witnessed the “official” pledge of allegiance of Hapilon’s group to the IS.
Baco and Husen were with Mahmud Ahmad, Muhammad Joraimee Awang Raimee and Jeknal Adil, who fled to the Southern Philippines in 2014.

The Malaysian government has been tracking their whereabouts because of their ties with the IS and for recruiting militants to join their cause.

Baco, Hapilon and Maute were named commanders after IS hinted last year that it was planning to expand its caliphate in the Southeast Asian region.

No public pronouncement has been made by the leaders of the groups of the Rajah Solaiman Movement (RSM), the Ansarul Khilafah in Sarangani (AKS) and the BIFF in Maguindanao, but they were believed to be headed by Ahmad Santos, Ismael Abubakar and Muhammad Jafaar Maguid, respectively.

All the groups had unified their cause to the black banner of the IS after they vowed support to the IS.


From Syria to Malaysia: Tentacles of Terror Are Spreading

From Frontera (Apr 11): From Syria to Malaysia: Tentacles of Terror Are Spreading

Despite having Asia’s second-largest Muslim population, Malaysia’s contribution to Islamic State has gone largely unnoticed. That may be about to change – with potentially dire implications for the country’s tourism-driven economy.

Recently Britain issued a very specific caution to its citizens: Avoid all but essential travel to the island resorts off Malaysia’s eastern Sabah province.
Then, three days later, Australia warned of potential terrorist attacks in and around Kuala Lumpur.
Faced with a direct financial hit on its all-important tourism industry, the local reaction was to downplay. “Malaysia is safe from any threats including terrorism,” said Tourism and Culture Minister Nazri Aziz. “There are no indications of an imminent attack on the capital”, assured Kuala Lumpur’s Police Chief Datuk Tajuddin Md Isa.
So what prompted two foreign governments to suddenly issue terrorism warnings in one of Southeast Asia’s most popular tourism destinations?

Tourism – The Lifeblood Of The Malaysian Economy

Over 27 million tourists visited the Malaysian archipelago in 2014, producing receipts of over 72 billion Malaysian ringgit (US$ 18.5 billion). The country’s embattled prime minister, Najib Razak, has pointed out that tourism is now one of Malaysia’s most important industries. One in every eight Malaysian citizens works within the tourism sector, which contributes over 15 percent of national GDP. In fact Malaysia has recently recorded more inbound tourists than Thailand, which carries a long-standing reputation as a popular holiday destination.
Generally, the world views the ASEAN region as predominantly safe and benign. Tourism in the region has grown at roughly 10 percent per year in the current decade. But the looming threat of Islamic terrorism now threatens to bring that trend to a halt. Malaysia, with its overwhelmingly moderate brand of Sunni Islam, has yet to experience any major terrorist assault. Yet the threat has been growing – from embryonic, to emergent, to definitive – within a very short space of time.

Theological Affinity

Terrorist training camps linked to Islamic State have been identified by Malaysia’s security services in regions including Port Dickson, south of the capital Kuala Lumpur, and Kuala Kangsar in Perak state since 2013. Local militants have reportedly received weapons along with Islamic State indoctrination. With a few days of training, graduates of these camps are then dispatched to Syria. Exports have included a Malaysian woman in her 30s. She travelled to Syria via Turkey, reportedly to participate in jihad al-nikah, or sexual comfort roles for the jihadists.
To set such activity in context, 2014 was at a time when the world at large was still blissfully ignorant of the existence of Islamic State. Al-Qaeda dominated the entire international terrorism news agenda. The capture of Fallujah and Mosul, the advances on Libya, the taped beheadings of westerners – these events were still up to a year away.
Yet in Malaysia, a training camp and channel to Syria had been formally established and was up and running. The camps highlight not only close operational collaboration, but theological affinity with Islamic State’s Salafist doctrine of a return to the original ways of Islam. This speaks volumes as to Islamic State’s intent for Malaysia and the wider region.
Given this connection, and the geographical distance between Malaysia and Syria, it’s likely that the process of sending vetted local jihadists to Syria was initiated by Malaysian recruiters.
Their decision will have been motivated by a longer-term strategic objective: to create a generation of jihadists with combat experience who could then be repatriated or redeployed to Malaysia to continue their jihad. These ‘returnees’ would spread the message and train local militants in battlefield-tested terrorist tactics – techniques and procedures gleaned from Islamic State. 

Afghanistan Again

Such a strategy repeats the experience of the 1980s Afghan war, when jihadist groups throughout the Muslim world sent their fighters to gain combat experience that would later be recycled and applied in their respective homelands.
The particular “success” of Malaysia’s training camps has been to identify recruits so motivated and radicalised that they’re willing to give up their lives for the cause – introducing a singularly new and deadly security threat to the country: the suicide bomber.
The January 2016 arrest by Malaysian Police of a suspected suicide bomber in Kuala Lumpur signals that this transition has already begun. To date at least six confirmed Malaysians have participated in suicide attacks on behalf of Islamic State. Most of them, if not all, were graduates of these pre-deployment training camps. The advent of suicide attacks will mean increased security concern for the Malaysian state as these radicals return home.
Sympathisers with Islamic State’s cause probably number around 50,000, according to Malaysia Police. A Pew Research Poll last year put the total closer to 3 million, or 11% of the population.
Either figure would indicate a sufficient core for very meaningful support to Islamic State, and a continuous flow of willing recruits.
But the most worrying demographic identified within these statistics are radicalised individuals found to be serving in Malaysia’s armed forces and security services.
Several serving officers have been arrested since 2013 for moonlighting as active Islamic State cell members, while directly engaging in terrorist activities such as facilitating illegal entry to the country and providing safe houses to the jihadists.
As terrorist attacks in Pakistan demonstrate, infiltration of the armed forces by radicals endangers strategic assets – ports, airports and naval bases – and leaves potentially catastrophic weaknesses in any security measures or strategies relied upon to counter Islamic State activities.
Against this growing threat, the government has shown determination in dealing with Islamic State. The Prevention of Terrorism Act introduced last year allows lengthy detention of terror suspects without trial or judicial review. Intelligence sharing has been stepped up with Malaysia’s immediate neighbours. To date, the country’s security forces have successfully foiled attacks and arrested hundreds of suspected militants.
But prevention of attacks does not equate to eradication of the threat of future incidents.
Islamic State has demonstrated its intention to carry out assaults throughout Southeast Asia with a series of bomb and gun blasts at a popular commercial and shopping area in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta in January, killing two and wounding at least 23.
The recent attacks, which targeted Western hotels and restaurants, were the worst since the 2002 Bali bombings, in which over 200 people died.
Aside from the egregious loss of human life, it is worth pointing out that the economic impact of Bali was catastrophic for Indonesia. In the year following the bombings, the number of tourists dropped by over 32 percent and resulted in huge decreases in tourism revenues. Meanwhile, today at least 23 countries have issued travel warnings for Thailand in the wake of last October’s Bangkok bombings.
Southeast Asia’s reputation as an idyllic and harmonious holiday destination is increasingly under threat. Malaysia, which has the region’s second-largest Muslim population, arguably carries the greatest risk of becoming the next target. Yet with its economy so dependent upon the continued inflow of foreign tourists, the battle against Islamic terrorism is not one that the country can afford to lose.

The authors of this report are Phill Hynes and Hrishiraj Bhattacharjee, analysts at ISS Risk, a frontier and emerging markets political risk management company covering North, South and Southeast Asia from its headquarters in Hong Kong.

April 12, 2001: American hostage freed in Philippines

From the Gulf News (Apr 12): April 12, 2001: American hostage freed in Philippines

Confusion remains as to whether his freedom came as a result of government negotiations or the use of force

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo greets rescued American hostage Jeffrey Schilling during their meeting at the Presidential guest house in Baguio city, northern Philippines

An American who had been held captive by Abu Sayyaf rebels for nearly eight months was set free but there was confusion as to whether his freedom came as a result of government negotiations, or the use of force.

Jeffrey Schilling, who was kidnapped in August 2000, is a free man.

One source said Schilling was released following high-level negotiations between local government officials in Jolo and representatives of the Abu Sayyaf group.

The source claimed Schilling was handed over by the group but none of the group’s infamous leaders was arrested.

However, Brig-Gen Romeo Dominguez, who heads the military task force against the Abu Sayyaf, said Schilling was rescued following a successful military raid on the Abu Sayyaf camp in Luuk town, 55km south-west of Jolo.

After two hours of fighting, Schilling was abandoned by his captors, headed by Abu Sayyaf spokesman Abu Sabaya.

He was seen walking alone in the mountains of the picturesque town of Luuk, said Dominguez.


Army chief: Slain Moroccan was ISIS conduit

From The Standard (Apr 12): Army chief: Slain Moroccan was ISIS conduit

ARMY chief Lt. Gen. Eduardo Año said Monday the Moroccan killed in the government offensive against the Abu Sayyaf was the conduit between the bandit group and Islamic State terrorists.

“Last year, he came up on the radar of our intelligence service because he was trying to link up the Abu Sayyaf to the Middle East terrorist group,” Año said, referring to Mohammad Khattab.

Khattab, a bomb expert, has been living in the country for the last three years, Año said.

Armed Forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said Monday at least 13 more Abu Sayyaf gunmen died as the military pressed more attacks Sunday against the fleeing bandits in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan.

Visit. Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and military chief General Hernando Iriberri visit one of the 53 wounded soldiers at a military hospital in Zamboanga on April 10, 2016, a day after soldiers clashed with the extremist Abu Sayyaf group. AFP
On Saturday, at least 18 soldiers and five bandits were killed when the Abu Sayyaf ambushed the advancing soldiers.

Padilla said bad weather prevented the Air Force from sending close air support for the ground troops that day.

Because the attack helicopters and bomber planes such as the OV-10 were grounded by bad weather, ground commanders had to rely on their artillery bombardment targeting enemy positions.

He denied public criticism that casualties could have been avoided if the troops had enough equipment and air assets during the critical moments of the battle.

The national headquarters of the military and police and all camps of the uniformed services across the country flew the flag at half-staff over the death of the 18 soldiers.

“Flags are flown at half-mast to mourn the death of our soldiers, our heroes who offered the ultimate sacrifice, their lives, last Saturday, our national Day of Valor,” Padilla said. “We fly it at half mast to honor their gallantry and sacrifice.”

On Sunday night, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Hernando Iriberri informed President Benigno Aquino III last  Sunday night  on the progress of continuing operations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines  against Abu Sayyaf and other lawless elements in Basilan after their return from Zamboanga City, Malacañang said on Monday.

“These operations were intensified since December 2015 and have resulted in neutralizing high-value terror suspects, including Malaysian Mohd Najib Hussein (a.k.a. Abu Anas), Moroccan Mohammad Khattab and Ubaida Hapilon, son of senior ASG leader Isnilon Hapilon,” said Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., in a statement.

“Both officials informed the President that, in accordance with his instructions, pursuit operations are still being conducted and that the troops are fully equipped and adequately supported,” said Coloma.

Eighteen soldiers were killed while six were critically wounded during a 10-hour firefight in Barangay Baguindan in Basilan’s Tipo-Tipo town Saturday.

The military said five were killed on the enemy side, including Khattab and Ubaida Hapilon, son of senior ASG leader Isnilon Hapilon.

Padilla said the terrorists attempted to behead two of the slain soldiers but were prevented from doing so.

Western Mindanao Command spokesman Maj. Filemon Tan said the wounded soldiers were all taken to military hospitals in Zamboanga City and were  undergoing treatment as of Sunday.

“Military operations will continue without letup as we seek the withdrawing bandits and hold them accountable for their crimes,” he said.

“Our soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice so that the people of Basilan will be free from terrorists and secure a peaceful and bright future for their next generation,” he added.

On Friday, police in Zamboanga City arrested a close relative of the Abu Sayyaf chieftain, Hapilon.

Criminal Investigation Detection Group Director Victor Deona identified the ASG member as Bantong Basinti, uncle of commander Hapilon, who was involved in the kidnapping of plantation farmers in Basilan province.


Officer killed in Basilan quit teaching to join army

From Rappler (Apr 12): Officer killed in Basilan quit teaching to join army

A cum laude graduate, slain lieutenant Remigio Licena was a teacher for two years in Isabela province before joining the military

AFTERMATH. Army soldiers arrive in Basilan to reinforce military troops after the April 9 clash. File photo by Richard Falcatan/Rappler

AFTERMATH. Army soldiers arrive in Basilan to reinforce military troops after the April 9 clash. File photo by Richard Falcatan/Rappler

ISABELA, Philippines – “Bright and kind.”
This was how his family described slain Army Lieutenant Remigio Licena, who was among the 19 soldiers killed in the 10-hour clash between government troops and terrorists in Basilan last April 9.
Licena was the highest ranking soldier among the casualties and the only one from Luzon, according to his brother Javier Licena. He was 28.
The lieutenant’s remains arrived via a military plane at the Cauayan City airport on Monday afternoon, April 11. He was brought to his home in the village of Rang-Ayan in Ilagan City also in Isabela province.
The family is pleading for justice, adding the government should immediately punish the gunmen behind the attack.
Licena graduated cum laude in Bachelor of Science in Secondary Education from the International School of Asia and the Pacific in Tuguegarao City.
Before entering the military, he taught for two years in Rang-Ayan National High School, Ilagan police chief Superintendent Manuel Bringas told Rappler in phone interview.
According to Basilan clash survivor Sergeant Erico Paglinawan, Licena was killed after the Abu Sayyaf stormed the military routes with gunfire and M203 grenades.
The military said the attack in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan also wounded at least 52 soldiers and 20 terrorists, including Abu Sayyaf leader Radzmil Janatul, aka Kubayb, and notorious Abu Sayyaf kidnapper Furuji Indama.
Of the 19 soldiers killed, 18 of them died during the clash while one died hours after being brought to the hospital. Four of the soldiers were beheaded in the fighting.
The military said 13 of the terrorists were also killed in the clash.
A terror expert earlier told Rappler that the clash was the first major attack of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS, IS, ISIL, or Da’esch, in the Philippines.

Indonesian hostages in southern Philippines safe, says foreign minister

From the Malay Mail Online (Apr 12): Indonesian hostages in southern Philippines safe, says foreign minister

The 10 Indonesians held hostage by the Abu Sayyaf in southern Philippines are reportedly safe following an intense shootout between the local army and the terrorist group, Indonesia's foreign affairs minister said today.

“As of Monday noon, we received information that the Indonesian boat crews are in good condition,” China's Xinhua news agency quoted Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister Retno LP Marsudi as saying in a statement.

The Indonesian hostages were not on the Basilan Island in southern Philippines during the nine-hour gunfight on Saturday, which killed 18 Philippine soldiers and five Abu Sayyaf militants.

The Indonesian government has been stepping up efforts to rescue the kidnapped seamen of the Indonesian-flagged tugboat Adnan 12 since the vessel was hijacked by the rebels while it was en-route to the Philippines from Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan which is the Indonesian part of Borneo island.

“We will continue to intensify our communications with the Philippine authorities, and our coordination with related institutions in Indonesia,” Retno said.

The 10 sailors have been held hostage since March 25 by the militant group.

The Abu Sayyaf group, which has long been notorious for carrying out kidnappings, beheadings, bombings and extortion, demanded a ransom of an equal US$1.1 million (RM4.28 million) from the company that owned the vessel for the release of the crew members.

Retno said that the government would not pay the ransom.

“The Indonesian president and vice president are paying close attention to the rescue efforts, and have instructed to strengthen coordination,” he said. — Bernama


Philippines: Turks rescued in Abu Sayyaf waters

From Anadolu Agency (Apr 14): Philippines: Turks rescued in Abu Sayyaf waters

Ahmed Tabran, Burcu Botanoglu reported to have sent out distress call after sailboat’s engine broke down in waters patrolled by Daesh-linked group

 Philippines: Turks rescued in Abu Sayyaf waters

Two Turkish people have been rescued after their boat’s engine stalled in a Southeast Asian seaway notorious for kidnappings by Daesh-linked groups.
Lt. Jose Covarrubias, Naval Forces Western Mindanao spokesperson, told reporters Monday that the Turks’ sailboat had been heading from Samal Island in the Philippines' Davao del Norte province to Malaysia’s easternmost state of Sabah when it started to drift in the Sulu/Celebes Sea.
Sabah is the closest state to the Philippines south, between which lie various island hotbeds of Abu Sayyaf activity. In 2014, two German tourists were kidnapped sailing to Sabah, and only freed -- under the threat of beheading -- when a ransom was reportedly paid.
"We received a distress call from the sailboat ‘Stormbird’ after its engine broke down while traversing Basilan [province]," Covarrubias said.

Ahmed Tabran, 60, and Burcu Botanoglu, 54, told reporters that they were grateful for the navy’s quick response.
After its engine stalled, the boat had drifted toward Zamboanga City and was towed by patrol boats to Western Mindanao Command’s naval base in the regional hub.
Since 1991, the Abu Sayyaf -- which has sworn allegiance to Daesh -- has carried out bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and extortions in a self-determined fight for an independent Islamic province in the Philippines.
It is notorious for beheading victims after ransoms have failed to be paid for their release.
The group gained notoriety in the late 1990s and early 2000s for a daring raid on a resort on the Malaysian oceanic island of Sipadan, from where it snatched 20 tourists, mostly Europeans.

Palace rejects Basilan probe

From the Manila Times (Apr 12): Palace rejects Basilan probe

The government has turned down calls for an investigation of a clash with terrorist that left 18 soldiers dead last Saturday in Basilan.

Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. on Tuesday said a military inquiry will not be appropriate at this time because operations against the Abu Sayyaf Group are ongoing.

“We understand the grief and pain of the widows and bereaved families of our brave soldiers who fought courageously and died in line of duty. However, it is inappropriate, in the meantime, to ‘probe’ the encounter on Saturday, as there are still continuing and ongoing operations,” Coloma told the media in a text message.

“The AFP’s [Armed Forces of the Philippines] focus is on neutralizing and disabling these lawless elements,” he said.

Coloma issued the statement after families of the 18 slain soldiers sought justice and demanded a military probe of the carnage.

Military authorities declined to discuss with reporters details of the 10-hour encounter with Abu Sayyaf bandits.

The AFP earlier confirmed that Moroccan bomb expert Mohammad Khattab and Ubaida, son of Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, were among those who were killed in the Basilan gunbattle.

The clash also left at least five terrorists dead.

Meanwhile, 56 soldiers and 20 Abu Sayyaf members were wounded.

The soldiers were sent to capture the elder Hapilon at Sitio Bayoko in Barangay Baguindan when they were ambushed by the terrorists.


AFP downplays ISIS hand in Basilan clash

From CNN Philippines (Apr 12): AFP downplays ISIS hand in Basilan clash

The Wesmincom said more than 2,000 fully armed soldiers had been deployed in Basilan to hunt down Abu Sayyaf members operating in Tipo-Tipo.

The military said on Tuesday (April 12) it is doing its best to prevent a spill-over of the conflict after the firefight against Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Tipo Tipo, Basilan on Saturday (April 9).

The military is deploying troops strategically to keep Abu Sayyaf fighters from slipping into nearby towns.

With Furuji Indama reportedly critically injured during an encounter on Sunday (April 10), government troops are on the look-out for Isnilon Hapilon, the Abu Sayyaf Group leader in Basilan who recently pledged allegiance to ISIS.

Also read: Who are the Abu Sayyaf?

The military also confirmed that the viral video showing the intense clash is real.
The soldiers seen in the video are members of the 44th Infantry Battalion.

A total of 18 soldiers died during the encounter — the biggest death toll in a single military operation since 2011.

"Yung nagpa-fire ng caliber 30, tropa natin 'yun," said Western Mindanao Command spokesman Maj. Filemon Tan. "Nagbibigay sya ng suppressive fire for the troops to maneuver also."

In the 10-minute video, a soldier is seen frequently inserting a rod to his caliber 30 machine gun, seemingly fixing something so he may fire his weapon.

But the military clarifies the machine gun did not jam.

"Kasi ang caliber 30, naka-link yan so kailangan talaga minsan magpasok ng isang projectile. It has its own mechanism. Pero nakita nyo naman ang putok dire-diretso," said Tan.

Soldiers killed Moroccan terrorist Mohammad Khattab and Hapilon's son Ubaida Hapilon during the operation, and operations are now targeted at ASG leader Isnilon Hapilon.

Also read: Fallen troopers honored as AFP pursues ASG in Basilan

In an earlier interview with CNN Philippines, international terror expert Rohan Gunaratna confirmed Hapilon is one of the ISIS leaders in the country.

"Late last year, four groups that are based in the Philippines came together. They unified at the request of the Islamic State, and they pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. They appointed Isnilon Hapilon, the deputy leader of Abu Sayyaf group, who broke away from Abu Sayyaf, as their leader," said Gunaratna.

But the military maintained there is no presence of ISIS in the country.

They said Hapilon is an Abu Sayyaf leader and there's no direct link between his group and ISIS.

The military also said they have killed 24 Abu Sayyaf fighters since Saturday.

In the past two days, though, there have been no reports of direct clashes between the bandits and government troops.

Only sporadic gunfire has been reported since Monday.


‘Daesh-isation’ Of Southeast Asia’s Jihadists – Analysis

From the Eurasia Review (Apr 12): ‘Daesh-isation’ Of Southeast Asia’s Jihadists – Analysis (By Muhammad Haziq Bin Jani and Jasminder Singh)

Southeast Asia and Islamic State

Southeast Asia and Islamic State

Militant Muslim groups in Southeast Asia have adopted the ideology of ISIL/ Daesh in preparing for a jihadi war in Southern Philippines and Eastern Indonesia. They have internationalised their operations across boundaries, rejecting existing state identities and allegiances and duplicating ISIL’s persecution of out-groups like the Shias.

ISIS, also known as Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) or Daesh (in Arabic), has embarked on a global campaign to establish an Islamic caliphate across Asia. To fulfill the vision of its self-styled caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, even affiliated militant groups in Southeast Asia have been injected with their jihadi doctrines, turning them into a unified force. The manner in which ISIL conducts itself has been translated onto Southeast Asia, resulting in the “Daesh-isation” of the region.

ISIL is not merely a terrorist outfit fighting an asymmetrical war as is often claimed. Instead it behaves like a conventional army – albeit devoid of morality. Instead of small cells, it has tens of thousands of fighters organized in battalions and brigades, equipped with weapons and doctrinal manuals, and have been conducting war by conquering and occupying territory. With the Daesh-isation of Southeast Asia, jihadis in the region also attempt to engage in conventional warfare, even though, in reality, their enemies are far more superior. Jihadi forces in Mindanao – involving elements of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), Abu Sayyaf Group, Mujahideen Indonesia Timur (MIT), and Malaysians – are regrouping for that reason. A similar jihadi joint operation is also taking place in Poso where the Indonesian government states that more than 100 foreign jihadists are operating.

What Makes Daeshisation?

Just as ISIL is a conglomerate of multi-national, multi-ethnic brigades or kataib in allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, these groups from Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, although loosely-organised with different aims, are crystallising into a unified force. Unlike the past, the present Daesh-oriented security threat is driven by an ideology that gathers support from any group or individual that believes in the Daesh vision to establish a wilayat in support of a global Caliphate.

Additionally, foreign elements have also joined in local jihadi missions, as is increasingly evident in Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia. Most recently, inroads are being made online to pull the historically insular Thai insurgency into Daesh-isation, with the emergence, on social media, of a Daesh flag superimposed on the map of southern Thailand.

They are unified not just through allegiance to a self-styled caliph, but also through a common Southeast Asian language group, comprising mainstream and dialects of the languages of the Malay world. When the Jund al-Tawhid faction from the Philippines released its video of oath taking, online supporters recognised the video as a product of “Mujahidin Serumpun Melayu” (Mujahidin of the Malay Family). Daesh’s ideas are also propagated through local Southeast Asian languages such of Bahasa Indonesia and Tagalog as seen in official ISIL Telegram channels directed at Southeast Asia.

Moreover, the presence of multi-national militants in Poso, including Uighurs and Mandarin-speaking fighters, and reports of Arab fighters in Mindanao imply an internationalisation of a symmetrical war in the tri-border area straddling Sabah, Sulawesi and Mindanao. On 9 April 2016, Mohammad Khattab, a Moroccan bomb-making instructor was killed during a fire-fight in Basilan with Filipino forces. He was reported to have wanted to unite the ISIS-affiliated groups in the Philippines and link them with the international terrorist organization.

Symbolism of Discarding Passports

However, Daesh-isation of Southeast Asia involves the application of wilayat as an extension of the global caliphate. This ISIL contribution to jihadi parlance brings sophistication to jihadi activities, strategy and operation. Jihadis do not just act out local grievances through banditry under a jihadi command centre. Jihadis are now ostensible citizens of an illegitimate global caliphate, and their sub-state wilayat is expected to add value to the caliphate, by supplying new recruits or to broaden the imagination of the boundaries of the elusive Islamic state.

Fighters are known to have discarded passports, as a gesture of the rejection of their previous allegiance to the state system; they identify themselves instead through their bai’aat or oaths of allegiance and crude identity cards created as conduits of “citizenship”. With wilayat as an extension of ISIL’s pseudo-state, Daesh-isation also introduced the concept of non-military contribution, instead of merely frontline fighting.

Even Jihad in Southeast Asia is beginning to take on a Daesh flavour. Whereas Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and Al-Qaeda are now apparently more careful or are in postponement of sectarian conflict, Daesh is uncompromising in its hatred of out-groups, especially the Shi’ites, inherited from its late founding father, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Already, Malaysia is adamant in not accepting Shi’ism as part of Islam while Indonesia has a history of blood-spilling, house-burning sectarian violence. The sectarian aspect of Daesh-isation is compatible with regional communal tensions and online fighters receive approbative responses whenever they turn to using Shias as whipping boys for Daesh’s atrocities in the Middle East.

New Paradigm for Counter-terrorism

Aside from the existing regional political consensus and inter-agency intelligence information-sharing, to defeat Daesh in Southeast Asia, there should also be joint operations where necessary, especially when groups such as Abu Sayyaf operate over multiple borders. The Mindanao-based group had recently abducted Malaysians and Indonesians in the waters off Semporna and an unknown location near Malaysian waters.

Even if such joint operations are just a show of force or combined training efforts, a united multi-state front comprising both police and military institutions will shatter any dreams of a wilayat spanning the archipelago. From the bottom to the top, the order of battle (ORBAT) of the police and militaries of Southeast Asia will have to address areas such as Mindanao and Poso to significantly reduce the pernicious threat of terrorism in the region.

ISIL’s affiliates seem to have no conception of defeat. They are neither concerned about the global opposition, nor the weakness of their own forces, in the belief that death is the imagined salvation usually unattainable, while defeat is but a temporary setback. After Paris, Istanbul and Brussels, a paradigm shift is crucial to counter, contain and degrade, if not eliminate the jihadi militants of Daesh so as to prevent them from creating havoc on earth.

[Jasminder Singh is a Senior Analyst with the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR), at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Muhammad Haziq Bin Jani is a Research Analyst at ICPVTR, RSIS.]


Ranking leader Furuji Indama among Abu Sayyaf dead in Basilan –Gazmin

From GMA News (Apr 12): Ranking leader Furuji Indama among Abu Sayyaf dead in Basilan –Gazmin

Furuji Indama, a ranking leader of the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group in Basilan, was killed in the ongoing military operations in the island province, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said Tuesday.

Interviewed at Villiamor Airbase, Gazmin said Indama was among the 25 terrorists killed in three days of military operations in Basilan that started on Saturday.

"Twenty five kasama na si Furuji," Gazmin said when asked for an update on the number of fatalities on the enemy side.

However, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla later in the day clarified that Indama was not among those killed in the clashes, and that the death toll on the enemy side was only 24.

Indama is described as a "high-value target" as he was the "No. 2 man" of Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon.

On Saturday, the military lost 18 of its men in an ambush staged by the Abu Sayyaf in Tipo-Tipo town.

The ensuing sporadic clashes, meanwhile, resulted in the death of four terrorists, including a Moroccan national described as a bomb expert. On Sunday, the military, citing information from "sources" on the ground, claimed that the Abu Sayyaf death toll has reached 13. By Monday, it has climbed to 25.


Local execs continue to push for dev’ts to stop terrorism

From the Philippine Star (Apr 12): Local execs continue to push for dev’ts to stop terrorism

The town hall of Sumisip in Basilan is one of the dozens of government projects implemented in the province in recent years. DPWH-ARMM

Officials are convinced Abu Sayyaf extremists in Basilan will soon weaken due to the continuing compression of their enclaves as a result of the massive construction of roads in the island province.

Police officials in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and Philippine Army sources on Tuesday said Saturday’s deadly Abu Sayyaf-military encounter in Baguindan in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan could be the group’s “last stand” in a once formidable guerilla enclave in the area now traversed by newly-built roads.

Raw video shots of the encounter showed several Army vehicles parked along a road near the scene of the skirmishes, in what was for authorities an indication that Abu Sayyaf lairs in Basilan are now accessible to Army combat vehicles and battle tanks.

President Benigno Aquino III and ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman led last month’s launching in Barangay Tumahubong in Sumisip of the P1 billion worth Basilan Transcenstral Road, to cut through forested hinterlands in the center of the island province, where the Abu Sayyaf built its first ever, but now abandoned hideout, the Camp Abduradjak.

“When there are concrete roads in far-flung areas, livelihood opportunities also spread around, generating employment for the poor people and once they have decent sources of income, they turn their backs from lawless groups giving them false hope and bad indoctrinations,” an Army general told The STAR on Tuesday.

Records from the office of engineer Don Loong, secretary of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) in ARMM, showed the Hataman administration, with Malacañang’s permission, allocated P9.35 billion worth of infrastructure grants for 265 projects, mostly arterial road networks, for Basilan from 2012 to 2016, something never done before by past presidents and ARMM governors.

The projects, some already completed while others are still being implemented by Basilan’s district engineer, Soler Undug, were designed to hasten the restoration of normalcy in conflict-devastated areas in support of the socio-economic agenda of Malacañang’s Southern Mindanao peace process.

Basilan covers 11 towns and all 45 barangays in Lamitan City, the provincial capital.

At least P7.66 billion worth of funds, from total allocations for Basilan in the past four years, had been earmarked for strategic infrastructures, such as bridges, concreting of old roads and construction of new ones, in support of the government’s agriculture, health, education and tourism thrusts in the province.

The amount is 81.91 percent of the P9.35 billion infrastructure grants poured into the province during the period by the Hataman administration.

“We have noticed a rise in enrolment during the two recent school years as a result of the connectivity now of remote barangays to schools,” said Hadja Nuriya Jamaldin, assistant superintendent of public schools in Basilan.

Loong said the Hataman administration had proposed a P16 billion budget for infrastructure projects in Basilan for 2017.

“Once all of these projects are implemented, people in the province would have economic stability in their midst and along economic growth comes peace and development and convenient life for all,” Loong said.

Local officials in Basilan said the Abu Sayyaf is opposed to the ARMM government’s infrastructure and socio-economic interventions for marginalized sectors for fear of losing control of the local communities, from where they mulct food and money from, if empowered.

“Their camp in Albarka fell two months ago, now secured by the military. Their last bastion in Tipo-Tipo had been breached too last Saturday. Their world is getting smaller,” said an elected official in Lamitan City.

The official was referring to the once impregnable Abu Sayyaf hideouts in the adjoining Albarka and Tipo-Tipo towns southwest of Basilan.

Loong said personnel of the DPWH-ARMM are just as certain the accomplished and ongoing infrastructure projects in Basilan will hasten the attainment of peace in the province.

“You cannot quell violence with violence. Only peace and development can quell violence. Only light can give us clarity in the darkness,” he said.