Monday, July 3, 2017

Maute gunmen cling on to hundreds of buildings in Marawi

From ABS-CBN (Jul 4): Maute gunmen cling on to hundreds of buildings in Marawi

A portion of Marawi City lies in ruins as fighting continues between government troops and the Maute group. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News

Maute gunmen led by one of the world's most wanted terrorists still hold about 1,500 buildings in a southern Philippine city after weeks of ferocious fighting that has left hundreds dead, officials said Monday.
The Philippine military has struggled to expel scores of gunmen who rampaged across Marawi city on May 23 flying the black flag of the Islamic State group, despite day and night artillery and air strikes that have reduced swathes of the downtown area to rubble.

President Rodrigo Duterte last month vowed to crush the militants, but several deadlines have already been missed to end a conflict that has left scores dead and forced some 400,000 people from their homes.

The gunmen are led by Isnilon Hapilon, one of the world's most wanted men, who is believed to be still alive and holed up in a mosque, Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told a news conference in Manila.

In the most detailed assessment yet, he conceded there was no saying when soldiers would be able to retake all 1,500 houses and buildings still held or booby-trapped by the militants.
"Since it is urban fighting a lot of our troops there are not prepared. One can say they are learning as they fight in this built-up area," he said, adding that soldiers are battling street-to-street retaking up to a hundred buildings a day.

The military in Marawi suggested a slower rate, with soldiers recapturing 40 buildings on Saturday and 57 on Sunday.

"The clearing operation is difficult because of the presence of IEDs (improvised explosive devices), booby traps left behind by the terrorists," said the military spokesman for the campaign, Lieutenant-Colonel Jo-ar Herrera.

Eighty-two soldiers and police and 39 civilians have died in the weeks-long conflict, he said.

Around a hundred militants are still entrenched in the city and the army has said they have used a water route to bring in ammunition and evacuate wounded fighters, helping them withstand the military offensive for weeks. Some 300 gunmen are thought to have been killed so far.
Lorenzana said military commanders wanted a swift end to the operation, "but the enemy is also very wily and resourceful".

Duterte imposed martial law over the southern Philippines soon after the fighting started, saying he needed strong powers to snuff out an IS plot to carve out territory after battlefield losses in Iraq and Syria.

A botched government attempt to arrest Hapilon at a Marawi hideout touched off the fighting in May.

He is supported by Marawi-based gunmen led by the Maute brothers, whose group has pledged allegiance to IS, as well as several foreign fighters, Lorenzana said.

Mautes crumbling as a group, resorting to looting - AFP

From CNN Philippines (Jul 4): Mautes crumbling as a group, resorting to looting - AFP

On top of atrocities committed by the Mautes, the ISIS-inspired group has also resorted to plain criminal acts such as looting, theft and burglary, according to the military.

Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera, spokesperson for Joint Task Force Marawi, said on Monday the military has been receiving "disturbing narratives" from escaped hostages telling how civilians were made to loot houses and establishments for cash, gold, jewelry and ammunition.

"An estimated ₱500M worth of cash was reportedly looted/stolen by Maute/ASG rebels, together with criminals in Marawi City, according to revelations by hostages who successfully escaped and were later on rescued by govt forces," Hererra said in a statement.

According to the joint task force, the rescued individuals also revealed that they followed a daily routine of looting-stealing schedule: 7 a.m -11 a.m., return for lunch, then back to looting-stealing after lunch up to 3 p.m.

The looted items were brought to central storage in a mosque and received by designated Maute member, the military said.

Meanwhile, the military said the Maute fighters were no longer coordinated as as one of their leaders, Abdullah Maute, could not unite unite the group.

Herrera, in a separate interview, also said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has been getting reports that some of the terrorists wanted to surrender.

Surrender, he pointed out, was different from a negotiation — and the military would be open to any opportunity to end the hostilities.

AFP: Maute has taken P 500M worth of money from Marawi homes

From The Standard (Jul 4): AFP: Maute has taken P 500M worth of money from Marawi homes

Hostages rescued by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) recount that Maute terrorists had forced them to loot and steal from the abandoned establishments and homes in Marawi City.

This was revealed by Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella during a press briefing in Malacañang on Tuesday.

Abellla said rescued hostages narrated that they would be ordered to take items from homes and stores from 7 to 11 in the morning.

Then, they were instructed to resume hauling things at noon until 3 pm.

The hostages estimated the amount of cash stolen must have reached about P 500 million.

Abella said the hostages were escorted by the Maute group and local bandits.

As of now, the AFP has rescued a total of 1,717 hostages.

39 civilians have been killed in the fighting between government forces and the terrorists.

Fatalities on the side of government stands at 84 or an increase of one from the day before.

337 Maute members and supporters have been killed.

Over 400 high-powered firearms have been recovered by soldiers and policemen.

Gensan officials deny city under lock down security

From the Manila Bulletin (Jul 2): Gensan officials deny city under lock down security

Local authorities have debunked reports circulated on the social media that the city has been placed under a locked down security alert amid imminent terror attacks.

Vice Mayor Shirlyn Nograles said the report circulated on the social media was an offshoot after security officials conducted a dry-run to quell a possible terror attack in the city over the weekend.

She said part of the simulation activity was to place the entire city under a locked down security protocol wherein no one would be allowed to enter and get out of the city.

General Santos City Map (Photo courtesy of Google Map | Manila Bulletin)

Nograles, who was designated acting mayor after Mayor Ronnel Rivera left for Australia for the Pacquiao-Horn boxing bout, said security measures had been tightened in the city in the wake of intelligence report that members of a local terrorist group were planning to sow terror in the city by bombing vital government installations and malls.

“Residents of the city thought that the security dry-run was for real in which residents started to panic and posted information into the social media,” Nograles said.

She said that even her relatives and friends called her to verify the reported lock down of the entire city.

Security forces have foiled a possible terror attack here following the arrest of a suspected terrorist last Thursday in an outskirt village here.

Police identified the suspect as Abdulazis Mangambit, a resident of Barangay Daliao, Maasim, Sarangani.

Galgo said the suspect who is a member of Ansar Al-Khilafah Philippines, a local terror group which pledged allegiance to ISIS, was arrested by police and military intelligence operatives at his hideout in Barangay Calumpang here.

He said the arrested suspect was included in the Arrest Order No. 2 issued by martial law administrator Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

Mangambit was said to be the aide of AKP leader Mohammad Jaafar Maguid alias Commander Tokboy who was killed in an encounter with government forces in Kiamba, Sarangani last January.

Authorities said Mangambit was tasked to carry out bomb attacks on government installations and malls in the city.

Security forces seized improvised explosive device and fragmentation grenade from the suspect.

As Philippines battles terror, neighbors worry who is next

Nikkei Asian Review (Jul 3): As Philippines battles terror, neighbors worry who is next

Majority-Muslim nations vulnerable as Islamic State flees Middle East

Philippine soldiers ride in trucks into the fighting zone as government troops continue their assault against insurgents from the Maute group in Marawi City, Philippines, on June 28. © Reuters

Entrenched armed conflict between Islamic State-linked militants and the Philippine military on the southern island of Mindanao has majority-Muslim nations across Southeast Asia on high alert for signs that extremism is on the advance.

Weeks ago, two armed groups active on Mindanao gathered in an undisclosed location to plot, in intricate detail, a full-scale takeover of the city of Marawi. Video obtained by the Associated Press shows more than 10 men consulting a hand-drawn map and discussing plans to spring prisoners from jail and take hostages from a school.
Isnilon Hapilon, head of the Islamist militant group Abu Sayyaf, sat front and center, and was flanked by brothers Abdullah and Omarkhayam Maute, founders of the Maute group, another extremist organization. Both groups have pledged allegiance to IS. When Philippine security forces attempted to arrest Hapilon on May 23, the Mautes put the takeover plan into action, beginning a bloody clash with the military that pushed President Rodrigo Duterte to place all of Mindanao under martial law. Manila apparently called in help from U.S. special operations forces, despite the president having ordered the American military out of the country.

Attempts to suppress the insurgency, including aerial bombings by the Philippine military, have left more than 400 dead, including 44 civilians and around 300 of the 500 Maute fighters.


"I am very, very, very sorry," Duterte said June 20 to a group of those forced by the conflict to evacuate. The president's roots on Mindanao run deep: he served as mayor of Davao, a large city on the island, for more than 20 years, during which time he established his law-and-order reputation with a harsh crackdown on drug users and those involved in the drug trade. But Duterte seems to have underestimated the difficulty of the current conflict. The military is gearing up for a long fight, and it is impossible to predict with certainty when the insurgents will be subdued.

The Philippines' population is roughly 90% Christian. But the country's southern regions are home to a sizable Muslim population. Abu Sayyaf began as a local separatist group, only gradually adopting the extremist ideology of IS. The Mautes were prominent members of Marawi society before becoming radicalized. Both groups have since been involved in bombings and kidnappings. Hapilon is considered the leader of IS in Southeast Asia.

The Islamic State's activities do in fact span the region. Citizens of Indonesia, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia were among the fighters killed in the Marawi siege. Groups and lone actors radicalized through social media have carried out attacks, including suicide bombings, in various nations. In Indonesia, there are already IS cells "in almost every province," Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo said in June, calling the largely Christian province of Papua a rare exception. Jamaah Ansharut Daulah, an Indonesian group that has pledged allegiance to IS, was behind a May suicide bombing in Jakarta that killed or injured 10, according to security officials.

Extremist groups are also behind a spate of kidnappings in waters off Mindanao, an area bordered by the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia. The three neighbors have started joint maritime patrols to bring the matter under control.

MILF, Maute Group battle for legitimacy

From Rappler (Jul 3): MILF, Maute Group battle for legitimacy

The mountainous town of Butig is host to an MILF camp where its founding leader Hashim Salamat is buried. It's also where the ISIS-linked Maute Group trained its fighters before they targeted Marawi.


It took 17 years of negotiations before the government and Muslim rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed in 2014 a peace agreement that envisioned to address the roots of rebellion in Mindanao.

But it wasn’t the end of the MILF’s struggle, it turned out, as the previous Congress failed to pass a law that should have created a new Bangsamoro region that would allow Muslims in Mindanao more power and control over governance and resources on their land. (READ: Maranaos hit 'traitor' Aquino for failed BBL)

It’s not clear when the Maute family, practically royalty among MILF clans, gave up on the peace process. The sons of Cayaramora and Farhana Maute supported instead the radical ideology of international terrorist network Islamic State (ISIS) and sought to carve their own territory in Mindanao to establish a caliphate. (READ: Terror in Mindanao: The Mautes of Marawi)

The MILF was working to complete the peace process – counting on the promise of President Rodrigo Duterte that peace in Mindanao is the legacy he wants to leave behind – when the Maute Group attacked Marawi City on May 23.

Rappler sat down last May 27 with Mohagher Iqbal, chairman of the MILF peace implementing panel. He said the Marawi crisis underscores the need create the new Bangsamoro region and make the terrorist groups irrelevant.
“One of the reasons why these groups are cropping up is because of the frustration of the people [with the peace process]. I think it’s time for the government, especially Congress, to be serious about the passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL),” said Iqbal.

Slow peace process eroded MILF moral ascendance

The Maute Group operates in Lanao del Sur, a province inside MILF stronghold central Mindanao.

Iqbal said there are 3 beliefs that differentiate the MILF from the Maute Group.

The MILF believes in the political resolution of the conflict through a peace process. The Maute Group does not.

The said MILF would have seen to it that its military operations did not put civilians in the crossfire. The Maute Group, in contrast, brought the war to densely populated areas and used civilians as human shields.

Half of the MILF leadership are ulama or religious leaders. The MILF would never agree with the Maute Group’s radical interpretation of the Koran.

Iqbal said they worked to remind the MILF base that the Maute Group and the ISIS ideology it is promoting goes against MILF principles. But he acknowledged that frustrations over the peace process that the MILF pushed has somehow eroded its moral ascendancy – particularly among young Muslims. They have become doubtful about the leadership's ability to address the political issues.

The Maute Group exploited this and was able to recruit among MILF clans.

“The Maute leadership is very young, a second generation [MILF]. Young people, the youth, are bold and daring. Young people are attracted to idealism,” said Iqbal.

In a sense, the MILF found itself in a battle with the Maute Group for legitimacy in Central Mindanao.

“Right now, modesty aside, the greater majority of our people are still listening to the MILF. We still have that popularity among our people,” Iqbal said.

“To a very good extent, I think only the factor of MILF is preventing the Maute Group from recruiting so many people to their side,” Iqbal said.

Blood is thicker than water

Marawi is yet another war that puts to the test the sincerity of the MILF in abandoning its history of violence and links with terrorism.

“The MILF has proven time and again that we are a consistent and reliable partner in the search for peace in Mindanao. Without a reliable partner in the search for peace in Mindanao, I don’t think peace can be achieved in due time,” said Iqbal.

The truth is MILF leaders – some more vocal than others – are frustrated with the delay in pushing for the law that will create the new Bangsamoro region. But the actions of the leadership showed commitment to peace. (READ: Duterte discusses Marawi Crisis with MILF leaders)

In Marawi, the MILF partnered with the government to create peace corridors that helped rescue hundreds of civilians trapped inside the battle zone. But the bigger contribution of the MILF is perhaps securing the highways from Marawi City to Malabang – the towns where the war could spill over – and make sure that they are not cut off.

Still, there are those who feel the rebel group could have done more to stop the Maute Group. In hushed talks, there are those who can't help but ask if some MILF leaders had also aided the Maute Group in Marawi.
The blood ties between the MILF and the Maute Group are thick. Both groups can trace roots to the mountainous town of Butig located some 50 road kilometers away from Marawi City.

The war-torn town that hosts one of the MILF’s biggest camps, Camp Bushra, is the hometown of Maute matriarch Farhana. It is where MILF founder Hashim Salamat is buried and where the Maute Group training camp is located.

This means it's not only the leaders of the MILF and the Maute Group who are related by blood or by marriage. It is the same among their supporters.

“As the saying goes, blood is thicker than water. You can hardly separate those people from each other," said Iqbal.

"I think that is the real basis of the suspicion that the MILF is one way or another linked to the Maute Group. But the reality is, the divide is so deep. It is so deep that the two groups cannot go together,” said Iqbal.

This is the reality that complicates wars and peace processes in these parts of the country. While families are divided in their ideologies – MILF, MNLF or the Moro National Liberation Front, BIFF, Maute Group, and Abu Sayyaf among others – blood ties often prevail when fighting erupts in their villages.

Suspicions vs MILF
Suspicions are hard to shake off whenever the government launches offensive in central Mindanao. In Butig last year, MILF fighters stepped aside to let the military run after the Maute Group. But there are allegations coming from residents themselves that some MILF members may have tipped off the targets and allowed them to escape.

Whether allegations of leaks are true or not, concerns prompted the police to keep their notorious January 2015 Mamasapano operation a secret from the MILF and the military. This is because the military would have pressed to inform the MILF out of respect for ceasefire mechanisms with the rebel group.

The police Special Action Force (SAF) succeeded in killing their longtime target, Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli Marwan, but it cost the lives of 44 elite cops who fought in a day-long battle in the province adjacent to Lanao del Sur. They fought both the BIFF and the MILF. (READ: Inside Mamasapano: Whe the bullets ran out)

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) declared the clashes with the MILF a "misencounter" that should have been prevented if the police respected the ceasefire mechanisms with the MILF.

Public outrage over the deaths of the cops turned national sentiment against the MILF, however, and derailed support for the peace process. Lawmakers withdrew support for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

This was when Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte took the national stage to warn of war erupting in Mindanao if the government breaks its promise to the MILF. It was against this backdrop that Duterte first declared his plans to run in the May 2016 presidential elections.

“Remember that if there is a breakdown in the peace negotiations, we in Mindanao will be the first ones to suffer and it is sad that nobody in Manila seems to realize this,” Duterte was quoted saying.

This is where Commander Bravo and his role in the Marawi crisis comes in to show the bigger value of the MILF and the peace process despite the complications they bring.

Commander Bravo’s Facebook video

Abduhrahman Macapaar or Commander Bravo is the popular but belligerent chief of the MILF Northwestern Mindanao Front. He commands up to 1,500 fighters in the Lanao provinces, based on estimates of a military officer who served there.

Bravo is notorious for going into a rampage in 2008, along with the late former MILF commander Ameril Umbra Kato, when the Supreme Court junked a peace agreement between the Arroyo government and the MILF.
Kato would form the breakaway group BIFF, which would coddle foreign terrorists. Bravo stayed with the MILF, which chose to restart the talks with the succeeding Aquino administration.

Bravo has always been a cause of concern for the security sector because of his reported activities in his lairs. Last year, Duterte aligned him with the Maute Group and accused him of taking his own territory in Mindanao.

But Bravo denied all these and declared his commitment to the peace process.

On the 3rd week of clashes in Marawi, he proved this. In a video message that went viral on Facebook pages of Maranao residents, he distanced himself from the Maute Group and declared their jihad to be wrong.

“Commander Bravo has been known for making so many statements and making so many decisions. But putting all things together, I don’t think we will doubt the loyalty of Commander Bravo to the MILF,” said Iqbal.

“That statement in the midst of the fighting in Marawi has settled everything. After all, Commader Bravo is with the MILF and he has said correctly the ideological and political lines of the MILF in terms of his statements in the video,” said Iqbal.

A reliable source confirmed that Macapaar met with the Maute brothers several times. Many shuddered imagining what could have happened if Macapaar and hundreds of his fighters joined the Maute Group.

“If Commander Bravo made a statement to the effect that he would at least sympathize with the Mautes, that makes a difference. But we never doubted Commander Bravo. He was through and through with the MILF,” said Iqbal.

Peace process

The new Bangsamoro region will replace the current ARMM – the result of the peace agreement with Nur Misuari's MNLF in 1996.

The MILF was the breakaway faction of the MNLF that represented dissatisfaction with the peace process that Misuari led. Years later the MILF would eclipse the MNLF to become the country’s dominant Muslim rebel group.

'When the historical injustices are addressed by government, then new armed groups that would crop up in the future would have no more reason to fight government,' says Iqbal.

This was the big lesson that the government learned from the MNLF peace process. For the peace efforts with the MILF to succeed, a new breakaway group cannot be allowed to grow and challenge the dominance of the MILF.

The military believes the BIFF has been diminished after it lost its leaders Kato and Usman, although the group remains a concern especially in Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat.

There have been many other spoliers to the MILF peace process that the military also dealt with one by one. The Maute Group is the latest incarnation of violent armed groups that claim to represent the Muslims in Mindanao.

In February 2013, followers of late Sultan Jamalul Kiram III attacked in Sabah to protest the MILF peace process for failing to include the country’s claim to Sabah. In September 2013, Misuari's followers also besieged Zamboanga City to protest the abolition of ARMM.

Iqbal said the creation of a Bangsamoro region as envisioned by the MILF will end the cycle of violence.

“When the historical injustices are addressed by the government, then new armed groups that would crop up in the future would have no more reason to fight government. All the issues are addressed by government and that would make them (armed groups) illegitimate,” said Iqbal.

Duterte, the first president from Mindanao, is expected to throw his support behind the proposed law when he delivers his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) before Congress this July.

Duterte said peace in Mindanao is the legacy he wants to leave behind. Indeed, it would mean everything for the people in his homeland – if only he could deliver.

Panay, Negros folk urged: Shun NPA

From the Manila Bulletin (Jul 2): Panay, Negros folk urged: Shun NPA

The Army’s 3rd Infantry Division (3ID) is urging rural folk in Panay and Negros Islands to stop supporting the communist New People’s Army (NPA).

Stop believing and supporting the NPA,” Major Gen. Jon Aying, 3ID chief, said.

Aying made appeal after the rebel group launched attacks in Panay and Negros in the last two weeks.

On June 18, a truckload of NPA fighters took over a police station in Maasin town, Iloilo province, handcuffing the officers on duty and taking away their weapons.

Stung by the daylight raid, police officials chided Maasin residents for not warning the station by phone or text message about the approaching rebels. The officials also insinuated that some of the residents may be NPA sympathizers.

The NPA also took responsibility for the June 22 killing of a businessman and a driver in Calatrava, Negros Occidental, for reportedly refusing to pay the “revolutionary tax” demanded by the rebels.

On June 30, troops from the Army’s 79th Infantry Battalion clashed with NPA guerrillas in Sandayao village, Guihulngan City, Negros Oriental, who were allegedly trying to recruit new members.

Aying said the NPA wants to prove it is still a potent force despite the misunderstandings between its leadership and the National Democratic Front (NDF) that is negotiating peace with the Duterte administration.

P20-million MNLF livelihood projects ruined in Marawi

From the often pro-CPP online publication the Davao Today (Jul 2): P20-million MNLF livelihood projects ruined in Marawi

RUINED. Zainoding Dimalutang (left), chair of the Federation of MNLF cooperatives says more than P20-million worth of their livelihood and income-generating projects operating in Marawi were completely devastated by the ongoing crisis. With him is Shariff Ali Ambor (right), a member of the board of the cooperative federation. (Alex D. Lopez/

More than P20 million worth of livelihood projects of a federation of cooperatives of the Moro National Liberation Front were completely damaged as the air and ground assaults by the government against the ISIS-linked Maute Group in Marawi continue.

The projects were funded by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, through its Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan program and part of the livelihood component of the peace agreement between the government and the MNLF, said Zainoding A. Dimalutang, the deputy chief of the Zone of Peace 2 of the MNFL area in Lanao del Sur.

“Most of these projects were received after the sealed peace agreement between the government and the MNLF,” Dimalutang said.

Dimalutang, who chairs the federation of 39 MNLF cooperatives, is based in Camp Jabal Nur in the town of Madamba, Lanao del Sur.

The camp covers the provinces of Lanao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, Bukidnon, Misamis Oriental and the Caraga region.

He said most of the livelihood projects they operated in Marawi were part of the first and second funding released by the government to the cooperatives.

“In order to sustain our projects, we decided to venture into more profitable businesses in Marawi. At that time, the business center in Lanao del Sur is in Marawi,” he added.

From 2012 until May this year, the federation was operating a number of businesses in Marawi, to include a motorcycle parts store, rice trading and hauling, electronics store, grocery store and a bakery.

The federation, Dimalutang said, also offered for rent some of its farm tools and equipment to rice and vegetable farmers in Marawi.

“That attack (the Maute) destroyed all of our livelihood projects, including the stores, farm tools, equipment and the hauler truck. It’s painful because these projects are really generating income to the federation and to our members,” he lamented.

The federation, he added, is presently in quandary on how to recover the losses.

“It will be very difficult. We received reports that some of our stores were burned down, the equipment destroyed,” he said.

The Marawi siege that broke out last May 23 has displaced more than 200,000 residents of Marawi and ruined most of the houses, buildings and other structures in the city, especially in areas where fighting was intense since day one of the crisis.

P20-billion rehab not enough

Dimalutang said the P20-billion proposal for the rehabilitation of Marawi is not enough.

“Just consider the number of houses, buildings and other properties devastated by the war. The amount is not enough to rehabilitate Marawi,” he stressed.

President Rodrigo Duterte, during his visit at the evacuation center in Buru-un, Iligan City last month said the government will prioritize the rehabilitation of Marawi and will provide P20-billion funding for the purpose.

Dimalutang also called on the government to prioritize the damaged sources of income of the people of Marawi.

“Damaged livelihood projects provided by the government to various groups must be investigated and be given support for recovery,” he said.

He also asked the government to give specific attention, through OPAPP to help MNLF groups in the area recover from the ruins of the war.

Manipulated cause

Dimalutang also expressed disgust over the leaders who led the destruction of Marawi, saying that their cause is manipulated that only brought hardships to the people.
The manipulation, he explained, is being done by outside groups that force their concepts of faith and belief to the Maute members.

“I believe of the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) factor in this crisis. They use this local group and wanted to inflict damages to Marawi, just like what they did in other countries in the Middle East,” Dimalutang said.

He also criticized the Maute Group of causing the miseries of the civilians in Marawi.
“During our time, when we fought the government, we always see to it that the civilians and their communities that we consider as our mass base is not affected by war,” he pointed out.

The extremism and the cause that the Maute members espoused, he added, are meant to make the civilians suffer.

“They (Maute) just want to be recognized by the ISIS. What they want is only accreditation at the expense of the thousands of the people and the damages to their homes, lives, properties and sources for living,” Dimalutang said.

Politics and drugs also added fuel to the crisis, he added.
“There were politicians who were monitored here in Marawi weeks before the siege. We were informed that they were discussing on the ouster of President Duterte,” Dimalutang said.

He refused to name the politicians he monitored in Marawi weeks before the siege.

Peaceful resolution

Dimalutang also asked the government to resolve the worsening Marawi crisis through peaceful negotiations.

“The military offensives, especially the airstrikes must be stopped to pave the way for the peaceful resolution of the crisis,” he said.

Local and religious leaders can handle the situation he said if allowed by the government to proceed to negotiate the leaders of the Maute.

The MNLF and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front can also play important role in resolving the crisis, he added.

Hapilon hiding in Marawi mosque, says defense chief

From ABS-CBN (Jul 3): Hapilon hiding in Marawi mosque, says defense chief

After the military said last week it was looking into reports that senior Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon had already left Marawi City, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Monday said one of the world’s most wanted terrorists remains holed up in the besieged city.

"According to our latest information, he is still inside Marawi. He is hiding inside one of the mosques in Marawi. I think this is maybe correct,” Lorenzana said in a news briefing in Malacañang.

The defense chief said Hapilon has not returned to his home island of Basilan, according to information from the military's civilian assets.

"There were three fighters from Marawi that arrived in Basilan more than a week ago, but Isnilon was not one of them. So we still believe that he is still in Marawi," he said.

Hapilon has been designated as the point person in Southeast Asia of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). He and his men backed the Maute group, led by brothers Abdullah and Omar, in laying siege to Marawi City in a supposed bid to establish an ISIS province in Mindanao under a caliphate in the region.

Clashes erupted in the city on May 23 after government troops attempted to arrest Hapilon, who carries a $5 million bounty on his head being offered by the US government. The Philippine government and military said while government troops failed to catch Hapilon, the operation thwarted a bigger attack by the terrorists.

Operating troops capture Abu Sayyaf bandit in Basilan province

From the Manila Bulletin (Jul 3): Operating troops capture Abu Sayyaf bandit in Basilan province

An Abu Sayyaf bandit was captured by the operating troops of the Joint Task Force Basilan at dawn, Sunday in the village of Bohe Yawas in Lamitan City, Basilan province.

Map of Lamitan, Basilan (Credit: Wikipedia) | Manila Bulletin

Armed Forces of the Philippines, Western Mindanao Command (AFP-WestMinCom) spokesman Army Capt. Jo-Ann Petinglay said soldiers of the 19th Special Forces Company of the 4th Special Forces Battalion captured Ismael Gampal, an ASG member operating in the province.

Recovered from Gampal’s possession is an M16 rifle and other war materiel including a battle dress uniform and a military backpack.

The captured bandit and recovered items were brought to the headquarters of the 19SFC at Barangay Dangcalan, Lamitan City for debriefing prior his turnover to the Lamitan police.

“Our persistent military operations specifically targeting Abu Sayyaf group (ASG) resulted in this recent accomplishment,” said Col. Juvymax Uy, the commander of the Joint Task Force Basilan.

“We also would like to recognize the help of those who have already surrendered for the precise information they have given so that we can zero in on specific ASG targets.”

As of this report, 262 Abus were already neutralized by the Joint Task Forces of Western Mindanao. Of this number, 97 bandits were killed, 67 were apprehended, and 98 surrendered.

The troops recovered from the ASG 131 high-powered and 20 low-powered firearms.

“I laud the accomplishments of our soldiers as they continue to do their mandate even if we are in our trying times right now,” says Lt. Gen. Carlito G. Galvez Jr,. commander of the Western Mindanao Command.

“I also would like to recognize the continuing support of the local government unit and the people of Basilan, in our fight to contain and eliminate these terror groups,” Galvez said.

“We assure the peace-loving Filipino people that your soldiers will be more driven and inspired to take on our mandate to protect and keep safe our communities from terror threat, no matter what it takes,” the WestMinCom chief added.

Probe ordered into Maute use of government arms and ammunition

From the Gulf News (Jul 2): Probe ordered into Maute use of government arms and ammunition

Police chief says some businesses have connections with Abu Sayyaf

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has vowed to look into the reported use by Maute of government issued firearms and ammunition as government and civilian death toll in the fighting mounts.

“After this war, we will start looking at where these guns and ammunitions (used by the Maute) came from. Some of the ammunition cartons had markings that it came from the Government arsenal,” Duterte said during a recent visit to Camp Quintin Merecido in Davao City’s Buhangin District.

Television footages and videos had shown Maute militants using firearms similar to that used by government forces.

Police Chief Supt. Val De Leon of the national police Firearms and Explosives Office in a recent televised interview said they have strong suspicions that certain legitimately licensed guns and ammunition businesses in Marawi City have connections with, not necessarily the Maute, but the Abu Sayyaf.

De Leon said they are investigating a gun store in Marawi City, which is suspected to be owned and operated through a front business, by Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon.

Maute has strong links with the Abu Sayyaf and in one recent video suspected to have been taken before the Lanao-based terror group launched its attack in Marawi City, Hapilon was seen meeting with Maute brothers Omarkhayam and Abdullah.

“We have noted that some of the firearms recovered from the hands of the Maute have defaced serial numbers making them difficult to trace,” De Leon said.

Last June 23, police intelligence agents intercepted a shipment of ammunition for long firearms in Cagayan de Oro.

Reports said that a total 6,000 rounds of 5.56mm ammunition for M16 and M4 assault rifles were seized together with 2,000 pieces of .30 calibre bullets.

The cartons containing the bullets had markings of the Government arsenal as well as Armscor, a privately owned firearms and ammunition producer.

Officials from Armscor said they are looking into the lot numbers in the seized ammunition cartons to determine where they came from.

Based on a report by the Cagayan De Oro edition of the daily SunStar, the boxes of ammunition were declared as electrical wirings and had arrived in Cagayan de Oro as early as April.

Prior to the incident in Marawi City, President Rodrigo Duterte had tightened rules on the shipment of ammunition for high powered firearms in a bid to prevent such bullets from being used against government forces.

Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said that as of July 1, a total 82 government soldiers and policemen have been killed in the fighting in Marawi City since May 23 while 39 civilians also died. A total of 317 Maute terrorists were eliminated.

Duterte said the government “is winning the war (against terror) … A few more days and we will prevail in Marawi,” he said.

Rebel violence hits Negros

From the Manila Times (Jul 2): Rebel violence hits Negros

A series of armed attacks blamed on the communist New People’s Army (NPA) hit Negros Occidental in the past few weeks.

The latest victim was Biboy Gayagas, village captain of Barangay Bacong, Bago City, whose game fowl farm was raided by an undetermined number of armed men at 8 a.m. on Saturday.

Senior Insp. Joefer Cabura, Bago City police chief, said Gayagas was shot in the shoulders and feet and later brought to a private hospital in Bacolod City.
Responding police recovered empty shells of a carbine rifle.

Cabural said Gayagas had received several threats in the past but he refused to disclose details.

City police are running after the suspects.

The Bago City incident came two days after armed clashes between government forces and the communist guerrillas ensued in Sitio Agpapatao, Barangay Sandayao, Guihulngan City in Negros Oriental.

Capt. Eduardo Precioso, 303rd Infantry Brigade spokesman, said the encounters took place last Friday night after soldiers of the 79th Infantry Battalion (IB) responded to an information relayed to them by residents in the area about the presence of about 30 rebels, who were recruiting new members.

Precioso added that the 79th IB initially recovered an M14 assault rifle with ammunition, war materiel and subversive documents at the clash site as they pressed their pursuit operations against the fleeing rebels.

The NPA earlier admitted to killing a sugar planter and his driver in Calatrava town, the burning of an an abandoned detachment in Escalante City and the killing of a former Army soldier in Canlaon City in Negros Oriental.

The rebel army is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, which has been waging a “people’s war” for nearly half a century.

US destroyer sails close to disputed island in the South China Sea

From CNN (Jul 3): US destroyer sails close to disputed island in the South China Sea

A US Navy destroyer on Sunday sailed within 12 miles of a disputed island in the South China Sea that is claimed by China, a US military official told CNN.

The US Navy conducted a "freedom of navigation exercise" around Triton Island in the Paracel archipelago, which is claimed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan.

As part of the exercise, the guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem came within 12 miles of Triton, sailing into what China claims to be its territorial waters. The US does not recognize Beijing's claim of sovereignty over the islands, which it has occupied and on which it has been building fortifications.

The Pentagon declined to comment on the exercise.

"Beijing has undertaken substantial upgrades of its military infrastructure in the Paracels," according to the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies' Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.

 The initiative also says China has recently expanded its facilities on Triton Island to include the construction of a helipad.

The top US commander in the Pacific, Adm. Harry Harris, told an audience in Australia on Wednesday that "Fake islands should not be believed by real people," in reference to China's land reclamation activities.

"I believe the Chinese are building up combat power and positional advantage in an attempt to assert de facto sovereignty over disputed maritime features and spaces in the South China," Harris added.

A spokesman for the US Pacific Fleet, Lt. Cmdr. Matt Knight, could not confirm Sunday's exercise but told CNN they are a routine part of US Navy operations. The "excessive maritime claims" of 22 countries were challenged in the past fiscal year, he said.

A statement from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the US had "trespassed" and that China sent "military vessels and fighter planes in response to warn off the US vessel."

China called the action "a serious political and military provocation." The US "stirs up trouble" and runs "in the opposite direction from countries in the region who aspire for stability, cooperation and development," the ministry statement said.

Sunday's exercise, which was first reported by Fox News, comes days after the Trump administration made a number of moves that appeared to irk Beijing, including sanctions against Chinese entities doing business with North Korea and the approval of a new arms sale to Taiwan.

Sunday's operation was the second reported under the Trump administration.

The first came on May 24, when the guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey sailed within 12 miles (20 kilometers) of Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands chain, which lies to the south of the Paracels.

After that operation, China's defense ministry said two Chinese frigates had "warned and dispelled" the USS Dewey after it had entered its waters "without permission."

"We firmly opposed to the US behavior of showing force and boosting regional militarization, and have made solemn representation to the US side," Defense Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said at the time.

Last week, a report from the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative said China is continuing to build up infrastructure on three islands in the Spratly chain, Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi reefs.
 The newest buildings include shelters for missile launchers on Fiery Cross Reef and a very large antenna array on Mischief Reef, the AMTI report said.
Radar domes have recently been completed or are under construction around both Fiery Cross and Mischief, AMTI reported.
It also said large underground storage areas are being built on the reefs, presumably to store munitions, it said.
The group posted satellite pictures to support its report.
In late March, AMTI reported that dozens of aircraft hangars and high-end radar capabilities on the man-made islands in the South China Sea were almost operational.
Experts told CNN the new facilities will further establish China's military dominance over the region and could help China establish a controversial Air Defense Identification Zone in the area.

AFP plans one big punch vs terrorists

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jul 3): AFP plans one big punch vs terrorists

BATTLE ZONE A soldier inspects the City Hall building in Marawi as more soldiers are ordered to the battle zone to flush out terrorists still occupying four villages in the city. —JEOFFREY MAITEM

The military is looking to deliver one big punch that will end the occupation of Marawi City by local terrorists who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group in Iraq and Syria.

But Gen. Eduardo Año, the chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, refuses to say when his troops will throw the knockout blow at the gunmen from the Maute and Abu Sayyaf terrorist groups holed up in Marawi.

“While the Marawi siege [by the Maute-IS] is catastrophic, painstaking and destructive, the AFP, with our gallant soldiers, will ensure [it destroys] the entire group in one decisive major battle. We will not be pressured [or bound] by [deadlines]. I will not talk about deadlines,” Año said on Sunday.

Terrorists contained

Fierce fighting between government troops and the terrorists enters its seventh week on Tuesday with the terrorists believed to have been contained in a square-kilometer pocket of the city.

The fighting has claimed the lives of 82 soldiers and policemen, 44 civilians and 303 terrorists, according to the latest count released by the military over the weekend.

The crisis began on May 23 when hundreds of gunmen waving the black IS flag rampaged through Marawi after a failed military attempt to capture Isnilon Hapilon, the Abu Sayyaf leader said to have been named by IS as its “emir” in Southeast Asia.

President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law throughout Mindanao to quell the terrorist plot and coral all the participants.

Video captured by the military showed leaders of the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups planning an assault on Marawi, a predominantly Muslim city, to establish an IS enclave in the region.

A vigorous military campaign that includes airstrikes—conducted with surveillance help from the United States and Australia—has since reduced the terrorist force of 400-500 to just a little more than 100.

A brutal block-to-block, street-to-street, house-to-house, room-to-room clearing operation has driven the remnants of the terror force to seek cover in buildings in four villages in the city’s commercial center, where they slow down the advance of government troops with sniper fire.

On Saturday, Año said, the military killed 10 Maute snipers, leaving just a little more than 100 gunmen for the troops to deal with.

But government troops cannot rush the gunmen’s positions, as the terrorists are holding hundreds of civilians, including a Catholic priest, and using them as human shields.

The terrorists are believed to be looking to use the civilians as bargaining chips to get out of Marawi after one of the Maute leaders, Abdullah Maute, last week spoke to emissaries about trading the priest, Fr. Teresito Suganob, for his parents and relatives who had been captured by police.

The government has rejected any talks with the terrorists.

Abdullah Maute also spoke of his group’s willingness to withdraw from Marawi if the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the largest separatist group in Mindanao that has signed a peace agreement with the government, would intervene.

The MILF has said it is willing to step in to help resolve the crisis, but both sides must agree to its intervention.

MILF fighters involved?

It seems, however, that some groups do not want the MILF’s help.

An Army officer told the Inquirer on Sunday that some MILF men were fighting alongside the Maute and Abu Sayyaf terrorists in Marawi.

The officer, who asked not to be named, said the MILF fighters were followers of MILF leader Abdullah Macapaar, also known as Commander Bravo.

He said, however, that the MILF fighters’ role in the terrorist attack on Marawi had no approval from Macapaar, one of the separatist leaders whose forces attacked communities in Lanao del Norte province in 2008 after the Supreme Court struck down a Moro homeland deal between the MILF and the government as unconstitutional.

“We know we are fighting not only Maute and Abu Sayyaf but also MILF. We also know that there were MILF in last year’s fighting in Butig (Lanao del Sur province),” the Army officer said.

He said most of Bravo’s followers who joined the fighting in Marawi were from Camp Pukta in the town of Balindong in Lanao del Sur.

But Muhammad Ameen, chief of the MILF secretariat, said the information was baseless.

“It’s negative, baseless. They did not join the Maute in Marawi,” Ameen told the Inquirer by phone.

“As far as we know, he (Macapaar) is in control of his men. Don’t entertain the report,” he said.

Zia Alonto Adiong, spokesperson for the provincial government of Lanao del Sur, said the MILF remained a partner of the government in the peace process, with some of its members risking their lives in helping rescue civilians trapped in the fighting in Marawi.

“The MILF already condemned the attack, and Commander Bravo respects the decision of the central committee,” Adiong said.

We killed 10 Maute snipers yesterday – Año

From the Manila Bulletin (Jul 2): We killed 10 Maute snipers yesterday – Año 

The country’s top military general said on Sunday that soldiers are defeating the Maute Group day by day in Marawi City, reporting that 10 enemy snipers have just been killed over the weekend.

A soldier takes aim at militant positions from a rooftop in Marawi City as fierce combat between government troops and Maute Group terrorists continue. (AFP/Noel Celis)
“Just yesterday (Saturday), we killed 10 enemy snipers. Every day, we reduce their numbers but at a cost of really,” said General Eduardo Año, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff.

He said that despite the difficulty of battling pockets of resistance in Marawi, soldiers area painstakingly getting headway with their mission of defeating the enemy.

“There’s a lot of effort of doing this with the safety of the civilians, trapped civilians and minimizing the destruction of properties,” he told The Manila Bulletin.

Año said based on their estimate there are between 120 to 130 Maute fighters still fighting government troops.

In previous interviews, military officials have given a timeline or deadlines in ending the Maute Group’s siege of Marawi City, but this time Año stopped short of doing so.

“Hindi pwedeng mag-impose ng timeline o deadline (We cannot impose any timeline or deadline),” he said.

Senior member of ISIS-inspired terror group nabbed in Sarangani

From the Philippine Star (Jul 3): Senior member of ISIS-inspired terror group nabbed in Sarangani

 Authorities have arrested an alleged senior member of the militant Ansa’r Al-Khilafa Philippines (AKP) in a drug sting Sunday in Maasim town in Sarangani.

Morsalen Concepcion Mashod, a henchman of slain AKP founder Maguid Jaafar, fell in an entrapment laid by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and the Police Regional Office-12.
Gil Cesario Castro, PDEA’s director for Region 12, said on Monday that vigilant local officials and barangay residents helped them locate Mashod in Barangay Kanalo in the seaside Maasim town.
The operation that resulted in Mashod’s arrest was assisted by Military Intelligence Group-12, a unit of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Castro said Mashod was nabbed while in the act of turning over methamphetamine hydrochloride (shabu) to agents disguised as drug dependents.

He is known in Maasim as a ranking member of the AKP, a local jihadist group operating in the fashion of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Drugs are considered haram, or forbidden, by Islam.

The AKP, founded by Jaafar in 2014, is linked to the Maute terror group that laid siege to several barangays in Marawi City on May 23, sparking a conflict that has since dragged on.

Mashod was related by affinity to the first wife of Jaafar, according to PDEA-12.

Jaafar was killed in an encounter with agents of PRO-12 in a shootout in Sarangani province early this year.

Intelligence agents of PRO-12, which is based in General Santos City, are still tracking down more than a dozen other followers of Jaafar.
Jaafar first established an AKP camp in Barangay Butril in Palimbang town in Sultan Kudarat province in 2014.

The AKP, known for fomenting hatred for Christians and moderate Muslims, uses the black ISIS flag as its revolutionary banner.

Jaafar and his followers were driven away from Barangay Butril by the 1st Marine Brigade in late 2015.

Seven of Jaafar’s followers were killed in the takeover of their enclave by the Marines.

‘Marawi siege derailed deadline to defeat terror groups’

From the Philippine Star (Jul 3): ‘Marawi siege derailed deadline to defeat terror groups’

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) admitted the fighting in Marawi had upset its timetable in the campaign against terrorism. AP/Aaron Favila, File

The fighting in Marawi City derailed the goal of the military to defeat the Abu Sayyaf and other terror groups by June 30.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) admitted the fighting in Marawi had upset its timetable in the campaign against terrorism.

However, the AFP said the battle will be won and significant accomplishments during the last six months showed it is on the right track in the fight against terror groups.

“We have neutralized 519 terrorists (including 178 Abu Sayyaf and 317 Maute) since Jan. 1 until June 30, 2017,” AFP chief Gen. Eduardo Año said.

Año said the AFP also recovered a total of 548 firearms, which reflects a significant reduction of the enemy’s strength and capabilities, and prevented or minimized piracy and kidnappings.

“The desperation of Maute-ASG to claim recognition as an ISIS state prompted them to stage the rebellion and occupy Marawi City. These acts have derailed our objective to defeat them based on our timeline,” Año said.

Año though emphasized that while the Marawi siege is catastrophic, painstaking and destructive, the AFP will prevail in the end. He said the military would not be pressured nor bound by timelines or deadlines, adding President Duterte has given orders to finish off the Maute group and clear Marawi of terrorists to pave the way for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the war-torn city. “We will do this with highest dignity and code of conduct of the professional soldier; and respect to human rights for our country, for the people and for our soldier heroes who ultimately gave their lives for this cause,” Año assured.

Former Abu Sayyaf fighter warns worse to come in the Philippines

From CNN (Jul 2): Former Abu Sayyaf fighter warns worse to come in the Philippines

A decade after his release from prison, a former henchman of ISIS' leader in Asia predicts the battle unfolding in the southern Philippines city of Marawi won't stop there.

Abu Jihad -- not his real name -- retains a seriousness about him. His hair is short and neat, and these days streaked with white. He sports a neat goatee and is considered and thoughtful when he speaks.

He predicts the Marawi siege is only the beginning of a wider jihadist war in the region.

Under the overall command of Isnilon Hapilon, the wiry leader of the Filipino jihadi Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), militants have held Marawi -- a city of 200,000 -- for over a month, defiantly facing down government troops and daily airstrikes.

The intense, bloody battle, which has so far claimed the lives of over 70 soldiers and caused hundreds of thousands to flee, has seen much of the city reduced to rubble as Philippines forces attempt to drive out militants, street by street. Almost 30 civilians have also died in the fighting.

Around 300 militants from as many as 14 different jihadist groups have died in the siege, which started on May 23 and appeared to catch the government off guard.

"Soldiers being deployed to the front lines of Marawi are transported to safety on June 3, 2017, over a week after the siege began."

Soldiers being deployed to the front lines of Marawi are transported to safety on June 3, 2017, over a week after the siege began.

For years a member of ASG, one of the most ruthless militant organizations in a part of the Philippines known for its long history of extremism, and a friend and brother-in-arms of Hapilon, Abu Jihad is now concerned the militant group's recent successes will embolden further attacks.

He tells CNN his former friend's brutality "will not end only in Marawi."

Now a reformed jihadi who denounced militancy while imprisoned, he is desperate to use his life's experience to warn against the excesses of his former comrades. He requests anonymity from CNN -- he is fearful his enemies will find him and kill him for speaking out against violent jihad.

"They might succeed (in holding Marawi)" he tells CNN from an undisclosed location, his face obscured to prevent identification.

"But they also know, in case they might not succeed (in holding Marawi), at least they have been tested. They have tried."

"Members of the extremist group, Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) raise their firearms as they shout slogans in March, 2000 at their hideout in Basilan, 890 kilometers (560 miles) southeast of Manila. Abu Jihad is the masked militant in the foreground of the shot.

Long history

Abu Jihad called Hapilon -- who has been named by ISIS as the emir of the so-called caliphate's Southeast Asian province -- a friend for years. Abu Jihad has since renounced violence.

He says he fought alongside Hapilon in battles against the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and that the ideological, ambitious jihadi is one of the "boldest fighters" in ASG.

ISIS in the Philippines

"When AFP troops were about to move to take our camp, the (leaders) conducted a shura (council) to decide whether they will abandon the camp or fight to their last.

"It (was) only Hapilon who told the group that he will fight until they die in that camp."

He is also, Abu Jihad says, undeniably cruel.

"When I spoke to him many years ago, he always thought that killing non-Muslims is considered 'ibada,' or worship. That it would satisfy god -- make Allah happy. And I was shocked."

Unverified reports from Marawi suggest Hapilon may have fled already, but Abu Jihad says he wouldn't be surprised if his former comrade died fighting to hold the territory.

"I spoke to Hapilon many times and he always told me that he desires to, if he is to die... he wants to die fighting in an urban area."

Shrewd leader

The ability to bring together disparate militant groups -- separated along ethnic lines -- under the black banner of ISIS, has demonstrated Hapilon's success as a militant commander, says Abu Jihad.

"It has never happened before that militant groups in the Philippines have come together," he says, citing long experience of the difficulties in uniting the area's tribal groups, like the Maranao and the inhabitants of his home island of Basilan.

"I know the culture of the Maranao. And I know the culture of Basilan. And Maranao people do not unite with Basilan."

 A life made for militancy

Abu Jihad grew up on Basilan, an island to the south of Marawi that is home to Hapilon's group.
He was an ideal candidate for a life of jihad.

He studied at Middle East-funded madrassas in Marawi, one of the Philippines' only Muslim-majority cities, and spent his younger years hearing about the struggle of Afghanistan's mujahideen, who were then fighting to free their country from the grip of Soviet occupation.

He says that today, most young militants join groups such as Abu Sayyaf because it is an "easy way to earn money." But he insists people of his generation had different reasons for joining up. It was a "noble task," he says.

"During our generation we always, we always considered the welfare of the community. The civilians. We love to defend the people," he says.

He joined ASG in the 1980s, before it had really made its impact on the area.

It was foreshadowed by other groups, which had taken up arms in the hope of an independent Muslim homeland in Mindanao, and for a while aped the tactics of its forebears, groups like the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

But as these drifted towards peace and reconciliation with the government, ASG struck out on its own path.

Wrestling with his conscience

Abu Jihad first began to question his role in ASG in the early 1990s when the group took the wife of prominent Davao City banker Dante Abaca hostage and dragged her to Basilan, its island stronghold.

"It was the first kidnapping operation perpetrated by some members of the organization," he said, something that almost led to his speaking out against the tactic.

"We almost condemned that," he said. But he held his tongue, party out of deference to the group's then-leader, Abdul Rajak Janjalani, who told him the act was justified by the Koran.

His silence at the time led him to a decade-and-a-half association with the group, in and out of jihadism until his arrest in May 2002.

"ASG rebels holding Western hostages taking position outside a mosque in their stronghold in Jolo island in the southern Philippines."

Life of a jihadi

While a member of ASG Abu Jihad performed many roles, participating in, and coordinating, training camps. He says that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Al Qaeda member and 9/11 mastermind, now held at Guantanamo, was one of his instructors.

He's fought side by side with Hapilon in all-out battles with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, notably during a two-week siege of an ASG camp in 2000.

During his time in the group he says he also acted as a courier for overseas funding, often traversing the largely lawless and porous maritime borders between Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines to bring in money -- "millions" of dollars -- as well as guns, and fighters.

Long a hideout for drug smugglers, pirates, and kidnap-for-cash groups, traveling through these so-called "back channels" was "very easy," says Abu Jihad. "The people can just come in using the fast speed boats ... (to) easily transport firearms and money."

Foreign funding, especially in the early days of the group's existence, was crucial to ensuring its survival.

But taking money from Malaysia, Indonesia and from further afield, including Saudi Arabia, meant living up to the expectations of ASG's benefactors, Abu Jihad says.

"It was always the advice of foreign supporters like (Saudi financier and Osama bin Laden's brother-in-law) Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, to do something which could gain international mileage for the organization," he says.

"If you want people in the Middle East, the Arab brothers to hear your voice and know what you are doing, then you have to do something bigger -- not only for local consumption and local media.

"Like, for example, taking foreign hostages, particularly (Americans)."


While Abu Jihad says he secretly felt revulsion at the group's direction, he continued to go along with the atrocities, fearful that if he spoke out he would be killed.

He claims to have participated in numerous kidnappings -- one of the hallmarks of Abu Sayyaf's operations.

"ASG have kidnapped different kinds of people. From poor people to wealthy foreign nationals. When I say poor people, even to the extent that they ask for 100,000 pesos (about $2,000)."

He says that while the militants are often merciful to their captives, even feeding them from the communal cooking pot, "sometimes they are harsh."

"Malaysian hostages are guarded by two ASG militants in 2000."
And the group wasn't squeamish about carrying out its threats.
In 2000, he said he was part of a spate of kidnappings that at one point saw over 50 hostages held by ASG -- two of whom, it was decided, would be beheaded as part of a grisly "birthday celebration" for then-President Joseph Estrada.

He says he managed to save the life of one of the men earmarked for death, telling his jihadist comrades the man they wanted to kill wasn't a military officer as suspected, but a former classmate who had become a teacher. Thanks to his entreaties, the hostage was spared, he says.

"But he was replaced and substituted by another one."

Attempt to flee

He fled in the early 1990s, eventually becoming a public school teacher but threats from the group compelled him to rejoin the ranks some years later.

In 2002 he was arrested on terror charges and stayed in jail until he was released in 2007. He now works with a terror analyst who discovered his anti-jihadist writings penned while he was imprisoned. The analyst set up the meeting with CNN.

Abu Jihad continues to write, in the hope that his words will steer others from the path he once chose.

"I'm writing for the benefit of younger generations so they wouldn't be convinced like I was convinced."

"Soldiers patrol a street as smoke billows from a fire caused by heavy gunfights and aerial strikes on June 6, 2017 in Marawi."

Had he not renounced his jihadi life, Abu Jihad may well have been in Marawi today.

After over a month, and several missed deadlines for the AFP to clear the city of militants, a hard core of several dozen of his former comrades stubbornly remain.

Whatever the outcome, Abu Jihad knows the experience will only have emboldened the group, and its driven, fearless leader.

"The next time they will do this they are bolder," he says. "And they are better equipped. And I am afraid for that."

US, Philippines hold joint naval patrol

From the Leicester Post (Jul 2): US, Philippines hold joint naval patrol

USS Coronado inset BRP Alcaraz gun station

PH, US navies hold coordinated anti-piracy patrol in Sulu Sea

The United States Navy and Philippine Navy on Saturday, July 1 completed a coordinated patrol mission in Sulu Sea.

USS Coronado joined the recently completed inaugural US-PH Maritime Training Activity Sama Sama.
"These patrols enhance regional peace and stability", Rear Adm Don Gabrielson, commander of US Task Force 73, said. "Our at-sea operations with the Philippine Navy demonstrate our commitment to the alliance and deter piracy and illegal activities".

The embassy added that the patrol enhanced "both navies' ability to respond to piracy and transnational criminal activity at sea". Last month, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines also began joint naval patrols in their region due to threats from extremist groups.

The U.S. and the Philippines continue to work together on a number of initiatives and conduct regular military exchanges through routine participation in bilateral and multilateral exercises such as Balikatan, the Maritime Training Activity Sama Sama, Southeast Asian Cooperation and Training (SEACAT), the Rim of the Pacific exercise (RIMPAC), the Asian Defense Ministers' Meeting (ADMM-Plus), and other bilateral subject matter expert exchanges.

The Philippines conducts regular military exchanges with the US, including the Balikatan, despite earlier threats from President Rodrigo Duterte to end military exercises with the country's long-standing ally.

Manila never completely cut military ties to Washington, however.

The US embassy said the Philippine government requested the joint patrol.

"EDCA is still on", Lorenzana said, as cited by Reuters. Lorenzana added that President Duterte has promised to respect all existing agreements with the US.

The group, which includes factions that have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State movement, has also crossed the sea to Malaysia where they have kidnapped people for ransom.

The Philippines military is now engaged in a lingering offensive on militants linked to Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).

There are global fears fighters sympathetic to Islamic State will cross maritime borders between Malaysia and Indonesia to join Muslim rebels who seized Marawi City in the southern Philippines five weeks ago.

US special ops command identifies PH as focus of its anti-Al Qaeda, ISIS operations

From InterAksyon (Jul 3): US special ops command identifies PH as focus of its anti-Al Qaeda, ISIS operations

Soldiers stand guard beneath ISIS graffiti on a street in Marawi. (Reuters)

The Philippines has been identified under “violent extremist organizations-focused operations” by the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) alongside countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, and Iraq where Al Qaeda (AQ) and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are found.

In a statement delivered before the US Senate Armed Services Committee last May 4, USSOCOM commander General Raymond Thomas mentioned the Philippines as among the areas that their unit supported in countering ISIS as part of their “interoperability” capability or their function to conduct joint operations.

“Similar relationships are routine throughout all areas of active hostility, such as with the 5th Fleet in the CENTCOM AOR (United States Central Command area of responsibility) and multiple service and IA (inter-agency) partners in the Philippines,” he said.

Aside from the Philippines, Thomas also mentioned that they had also assisted Libyan forces in re-taking Sirte, Libya while relying heavily on over 450 airstrikes conducted by their Joint Force partners.

He said countering the threat posed by violent extremist organizations was the highest priority in their unit. This involved disrupting the external attack capability and destroying the AQ and the ISIS as well as developing a long-term approach to defeat and to counter violent extremist organizations.

“Organizations such as ISIS and AQ are trans-regional threats that require the Joint Force to work with partners across the US government as well as coalition partners,” he said.

About the USSOCOM

The USSOCOM organizes, trains, and equips special actions forces to support US security interests around the world. They also operate and fight in other countries as an integrated joint, combined, and inter-agency force, especially in cases of terrorism.

Among the highlights of their activities are under Operation Gallant Phoenix, which is a US-led multinational intelligence operation aimed at disrupting trans-regional terrorist networks through information sharing.

In the past, foreign fighter flow into Iraq and Syria had been tracked under the said operation.

Concerns over US military invention raised
In his statement, Thomas said they have 19 foreign partners under the operation. And with the increased activity of violent extremism in the Philippines, concerns had been raised by the leftist group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) as to whether the Philippines would become part of the US-led counter-terrorism campaign, following the events in Marawi City.

“The Philippine government should disclose if it is part of Operation Gallant Phoenix…What is the extent of the Philippines involvement in this program as well as the extent of US meddling in our internal affairs?” said Bayan Secretary General Renato Reyes Jr.

Reyes also posed additional questions: “For example, was Gallant Phoenix used by the US to provide the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) with the intelligence on Isnilon Hapilon in Marawi, which triggerred the armed conflict last May 23? Was the AFP operation so timed that it would scuttle Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s Russia visit? With Gallant Phoenix, how much did the US already know of the operations of the Maute-Abu Sayyaf group in Marawi?”

Recent reports indicated the presence of the US Special Forces in Marawi City. However, the Philippine military clarified that they were not fighting alongside local troops but merely providing technical assistance.

Reyes said Duterte’s allowing the presence American soldiers in Marawi was a “direct contravention” of the chief executive’s past statements about the United States’ historical misdeeds.

He also claimed there were indications that the US wanted a bigger role in Mindanao, following the events in Marawi.

“The US had previously wanted to establish de facto bases under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement or EDCA. They continue to maintain a small force of SOF operatives who ‘assist’ the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” Reyes said.

He also warned against US military intervention in the country, citing the roles the US played during the Abu Sayyaf threat in 2002 and the Mamasapano encounter in 2015.

“The US intervenes to advance its own economic and geopolitical interests in a region…When it suits US interests, these so-called terrorist groups are supported by the US to destabilize or bring down a regime such as the one in Syria,” Reyes said.

“As we have seen in Mindanao, US cannot protect us from the terrorist monster it created in the first place. The US however will continue using this monster as pretext for its military intervention in the country,” he added.