Saturday, July 29, 2017

Authorities recover firearms from alleged Maute supplier in CDO

From GMA News (Jul 28): Authorities recover firearms from alleged Maute supplier in CDO

Authorities who had a search warrant of the Martial Law Special Action Group raided the homes of gun traders and an alleged firearms supplier of the Islamic State-linked Maute group in Cagayan de Oro City on Friday.
A report by Marisol Abdurahaman in "24 Oras" said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) recovered 10 guns from a compound in Barangay Bonbon owned by a certain Jabar Tago, a former candidate for mayor of Pantar, Lanao del Norte.

Jabar and his brother Jameloding are suspects of a shooting incident last February 9, where three individuals were killed, the report said.

"Pinaka-recent diyan sa Cogon yung shooting incident. Sila ang tinuturo," aid Capt. Joe Patrick Martinez, spokesperson of the 4th Infantry Division.

An AK 47 and M4 assault rifle were recovered during the raid, along with eight short firearms.

When authorities searched their store, Jameloding voluntarily surrendered two .45 caliber guns.

Atty. Anthony Ponce De Leon, the Tagos' lawyer, said they owned guns to protect themselves.

"They are businessmen. Kaya sila may mga baril. Licensed, yes," he said.

Jameloding presented several documents to the authorities and these are now being validated.

The AFP also raided the house of Jalaludin Bacaraman Lao in Barangay Pagatpat. But they found that Lao was not in the house.Operatives searched his home, where they recovered firearms and ammunition.

The AFP said they are validating information that they received stating that Lao owns firearms and ammunition supplied to the ISIS-inspired Maute group in Marawi City.
Last June, 9,000 rounds of ammunition were found in a bus station that were earmarked to be delivered to Marawi City.

"Most probably they are one among the other subject for law enforcement operation natin na pinagkukuhanan," Martinez said.

‘Two and a half’ barangays remain pockets of resistance in Marawi: AFP

From the Business World (Jul 29): ‘Two and a half’ barangays remain pockets of resistance in Marawi: AFP

THE military on Friday, July 28, said about “two and a half” barangays remain pockets of resistance in besieged Marawi City, provincial capital of Lanao del Sur, where troops are battling around 60 remaining pro-Islamic State (IS) militants.
This undated handout released by the Western Mindanao Command (WESMINCOM) on July 28, 2017 shows Philippine marines guarding suspects, arrested for trying to reinforce Muslim militants in Marawi, prior to their transportation to Manila, at a military base in Zamboanga City on the southern island of Mindanao. WESMINCOM/AFP
The military’s report came after Congress overwhelmingly voted to extend President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s martial rule in Mindanao until yearend to defeat the band of jihadist extremists that overran the predominantly Muslim city and to dismantle the terror network in the region.

“The area of operation is confined to about two barangays, or to be exact, about two and a half barangays and confined to about less than one square kilometer,” Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Spokesperson Brigadier-General Restituto F. Padilla, Jr. said in a press briefing.

At ang bilang ng mga kinakaharap natin ay pinapaniwalaan namin na nanatili sa around 60, mga ganon pa. More or less (And we believe the number of terrorists we’re still pursuing is at around 60. More or less),” he added.

Clashes between government forces and the pro-Islamic State (IS) Maute militants broke out in Marawi on May 23 -- triggering what may be the biggest internal security crisis in the Philippines since the siege of Zamboanga City by the Moro National Liberation Front in 2013.

The band of Marawi gunmen was led by brothers Omarkhayam and Abdullah Maute, who had joined forces with Isnilon Hapilon -- leader of the dreaded kidnapping-for-ransom gang Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).

According to Mr. Padilla, the military believes the terrorist leaders are still inside the war-torn city given the resistance offered by the bandits.

As of July 27, security forces have neutralized 471 extremists holed up in Marawi while government casualties reached 114.

The number of civilians killed by jihadist bandits in the course of the urban warfare remains at 45, while air strikes and artillery bombings by advancing troops as well as deadly street combats have left the Marawi in ruins.

Meanwhile, in a statement released yesterday afternoon, the military said 60 “suspicious” persons were held for questioning in Zamboanga Del Sur and Zamboanga City on July 25 for “covert acts tending to reinforce” the IS-affiliated gunmen in Marawi.

“They were flown by a Philippine Air Force plane to Manila for further questioning and custody in an appropriate facility while charges are being prepared for violation of the Revised Penal Code relating to the crime of Rebellion,” it said.

A hearing at the Department of Justice was being held as of this reporting on the suspects implicated in the Marawi siege.

Government forces pound Abu Sayyaf with artillery in Sulu

From the Philippine Star (Jul 28): Government forces pound Abu Sayyaf with artillery in Sulu

The government forces launched heavy artillery against the Abu Sayyaf group after the local government of Patikul town, Sulu implemented forced evacuation of residents Thursday afternoon, according to officials.

Mayor Nasser Hayudini told the press that forced evacuation was implemented in at least 15 barangays due to the presence of Abu Sayyaf militants.

The plan was agreed upon following an emergency meeting with the Joint Task Force Sulu (JTFS) and the local government and 30 barangays captains in Patikul town.

Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, JTFS commander, said the local government officials and barangays captains agreed to relocate civilians to safe ground.

“This will hasten our operations against the Abu Sayyaf group and safely rescue the remaining kidnap victims from the hands of their abductors,” Sobejana said.

Sobejana said the military need to put an immediate conclusion to the prevailing security concerns spawn by the Abu Sayyaf group in the province.

Sobejana confirmed rounds of heavy artilleries were unleashed since late Thursday on selected targets where Abu Sayyaf members were monitored.

Reports on the ground disclosed that about 100 Abu Sayyaf militants were sighted in Sitio Santol, Barangay Danag, Patikul. They were reportedly planning to march downtown of Jolo, capital town of Sulu.

Sobejana said there was no immediate report of casualty brought by bombardments launched Thursday.

Hayudini said that more than 10,000 residents who were affected in the forced evacuation were provided with relief assistance.

Monitoring Team cites draft BBL, Marawi crisis among key development in peace process with MILF

From the Business World (Jul 29): Monitoring Team cites draft BBL, Marawi crisis among key development in peace process with MILF

THE Third-Party Monitoring Team (TPMT) in its fourth annual Public Report issued Friday, July 28, cited the still unresolved siege of Marawi City alongside the completion of a new draft Bangsamoro Basic Law as key developments “that greatly impact the peace process,” a statement by the group said also on Friday.
President Rodrigo Duterte (C) poses with Secretary of the Peace Process Jesus Dureza (L), Al-Hajj Murad (2nd L), chairman of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Ghazali Jaafar (2nd R), vice chairman of MILF and Mohagher Iqbal (R), MILF chief negotiator, as they join hands holding a draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) during a ceremony at the Malacañang Palace in Manila on July 17, 2017. AFP
TPMT was formally established in 2013 by the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to monitor the implementation of the GPH-MILF peace agreement, as provided for in the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) signed on 15 October 2012.
International TPMT member Huseyin Oruc said “the period of transition from the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III to that of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has seen some continuity but also change in the roadmap for implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).
“Despite the failure of the 16th Congress to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) , the first year under the new administration began with optimism for peace as President Duterte had reiterated his campaign promise to bring peace to Mindanao and support the BBL,” Mr. Oruc added.

Local TPMT member Mr. Rahib Kudto noted other key developments in the peace process, including the Duterte administration’s new two-track approach in the legislation of both the Bangsamoro Basic Law and federalism, as well as efforts on greater inclusivity and convergence that includes various Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) groups like the one led by Nur Misuari.

Mr. Kudto cited the need to pass a CAB (Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro)-complaint BBL that will reflect the aspirations of the Bangsamoro people.

“The failure to pass the BBL in the previous administration deepened frustration among the people and more youths became attracted to violent extremism, leading to the rise of terrorist groups like the Maute group. Another failure to pass this important legislation could mean worse for the peace process and the already volatile situation in Mindanao,” the statement said.

For her part, TPMT local member Karen Tañada said in the statement that, “with the positive developments as well as threats, the peace process could be on the verge of a breakthrough, on condition that the twin challenges of completing BBL legislation, and combating violent extremism, can be effectively addressed.”

“As the fighting subsides, it should be clear that a comprehensive approach that addresses the Bangsamoro aspirations by installing a Bangsamoro government exercising the fullest autonomy is the path to sustainable peace,” she pointed out.

MNLF denies recruiting new members for assimilation into military

From the Business World (Jul 28): MNLF denies recruiting new members for assimilation into military

A high ranking official of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) has denied that they are recruiting new members to undergo training at Camp Jabalnur, Lanao del Sur then assimilated into the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Habib Mujahab Hashim, chair of the MNLF Islamic Command Council (MNLF ICC), made the statement after groups of individuals coming from Basilan claimed to be new recruits of the group after they were apprehended in Zamboanga City and in Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay on Tuesday.
Mr. Hashim clarified that there is no agreement between the Philippine government and MNLF on such a recruitment arrangement.
He added that the MNLF has not authorized anyone to recruit new members.

Mr. Hashim said it is possible that the pronouncement of President Rodrigo R. Duterte asking the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the MNLF to help government troops combat the Maute terrorist group in Marawi City could have prompted certain groups to recruit new MNLF members without consent from the group’s leadership.

Mr. Hashim said they are verifying who could be behind the recruitment.

On Tuesday, local police apprehended 27 individuals, including two minors, in a house located in Barangay Guiwan after residents reported on the sudden influx of new faces in their community.

Another 40 unarmed men en route to Lanao del Sur were also intercepted at a check point being manned by the military in the municipality of Ipil.

“The MNLF Provincial Coordinator in the province are now talking with the military there [in Zamboanga Sibugay] to find out if they (40 arrested) are indeed bonafide members or not,” Mr. Hashim said.

All the apprehended individuals have been subjected to a profiling process to determine their identities and background.

Commanders’ den launched in Maguindanao

From the Philippine Star (Jul 28): Commanders’ den launched in Maguindanao

House Deputy Speaker for Mindanao Sandra Sema (left) launched Thursday the brigade commanders’ den in Camp Siongco along with Major Gen. Arnel Dela Vega and spouse Divina. Unson

Officials launched Thursday the brigade commanders’ den in Camp Siongco where officers from across central Mindanao can converge for periodic peace-building initiatives.

The facility was built through joint efforts of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division and Deputy Speaker Sandra Sema, congressional representative of the first district of Maguindanao.

The 6th ID is central Mindanao’s largest Army unit whose headquarters is located in Camp Gonzalo Siongco in Datu Odin Sinsuat town in Maguindanao.

The commander of 6th ID, Major Gen. Arnel Dela Vega, said on Thursday that he is thankful to Sema, now in her third and last term as congresswoman, for helping them put up the brigade commanders’ den.

The new building is located beside Camp Siongco’s harmony center, a bigger facility for peace dialogues and other civil-military engagements.

The 6th ID is actively helping push the Mindanao peace process forward through dialogues and programs propagating interfaith and cultural solidarity among Muslim, Christian and Lumad sectors.

Central Mindanao’s neighboring Maguindanao, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Lanao del Sur provinces comprise 6th ID’s coverage area, all bastions of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The 6th ID, which controls three brigades and more than a dozen battalions scattered in the four provinces and in the cities of Cotabato and Tacurong, has markedly been active in supporting the current peace overture between the government and the MILF.

The government-MILF peace initiative is aimed at putting a negotiated closure to the now five-decade Moro rebellion.

Dela Vega said Sema, who is identified with the largest and most politically-active group in the Moro National Liberation Front, is a staunch benefactor of domestic activities meant to hasten the peaceful resolution of the Moro problem hounding Mindanao since the late 1960s.

The newly-constructed brigade commanders’ den was launched amid a workshop by representatives of different youth organizations against violent religious extremism in another function facility in Camp Siongco.

The 6th ID-sponsored workshop is meant to inculcate among participants critical awareness on the dangers of allowing outcast Islamic militants from roaming freely to foment animosity between Muslims and non-Muslims.

NPA rebel killed as gunbattle erupts in Agusan del Sur

From the Manila Bulletin (Jul 28): NPA rebel killed as gunbattle erupts in Agusan del Sur

An alleged New People’s Army (NPA) rebel was killed while an undetermined number of other rebels were believed wounded when a gunbattle erupted late Thursday afternoon between the police force and communist insurgents at the mountain barangay of El Rio, Sibagat town, Agusan del Sur province, a sketchy report reaching the police regional headquarters here Friday said.

In a flash report received by the command and tactical operation center of Northeastern Mindanao Police Regional Office 13 (PRO 13) based at Camp Rafael C. Rodriguez here from Agusan del Sur Police Provincial Office (PPO) and Sibagat Municipal Police Station (MPS), said gunbattle started at 3 o’clock in the afternoon on Thursday.

The gunbattle took place when elements of Sibagat MPS who boarded their patrol car on their way to their station from Barangay Afga of that same town assisting the personnel of the social welfare and development in extending payouts to 4Ps beneficiaries when waylaid by an undetermined number of NPAs, armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

However, the members of Sibagat MPS quickly jumped off their vehicle and managed to maneuver in the vantage position that resulted in the firefight, a field report said.

Elements of 2nd Maneuver Platoon of Provincial Public Safety Company and 8th Special Force Company also arrived to beef up the Sibagat MPS forces.

In his initial report to Northeastern Mindanao PRO 13 regional director Chief Supt. Rolando B. Felix, Agusan del Sur Police Provincial Office (PPO) director Senior Supt. Joseph D. Plaza said the rebels disengaged in the firefight after five minutes and fled to a nearby mountain, for fear of more government security force reinforcements from Sibagat town and neighboring areas.

Operating troops seized from the slain rebel one AK 47 rifle, one bandolier and four magazines of AK 47 rifle containing 91 live ammunitions and some assorted live bullets, Plaza said.

The encountered rebels were believed members of the CPP-NPA Northeastern Mindanao regional committee, he said.

No one was reported hurt in the Sibagat police force, he said.

Identity of the slain rebel was not immediately known.

Meanwhile, Felix ordered the regional and provincial mobile force commanders to assist the Agusan del Sur PPO and Sibagat MPS to pursue without letup the fleeing rebels in Sibagat mountains.

4 NPA rebels killed in Sorsogon clash

From the Manila Bulletin (Jul 28): 4 NPA rebels killed in Sorsogon clash

Four New People’s Army (NPA) rebels, including a ranking commander, were killed in an encounter with government troops in Casiguran, Sorsogon on Friday.


Police Supt. Nonito Furio Marquez, chief of the Sorsogon Provincial Police Office (SPPO) Police Community Relation-Public Information Office, identified the killed NPA commander as Andres Hubilla alias Magno, the secretary of the Kilusang Pampropaganda 3 Provincial Regional Bicol Committee.

The three other NPA fighters killed remains unidentified as of press time.

Marquez said that the encounter took place in the vicinity of Sitio Namoro, Brgy. Trece Martires, Casiguran, Sorsogon, at about 5:05 a.m. Friday.

It was learned that government troops from the Provincial Police Office, Regional Intelligence Unit 5 and 96th Military Intelligence Company (MICO) Alpha Company of the 22nd Infantry Battalion and 31st Infantry Battalion, were conducting strike operation when it encountered more or less thirty NPA rebels

NPA frees captive police officer in Davao Oriental

From the often pro-CPP online publication the Davao Today (Jul 28): NPA frees captive police officer in Davao Oriental

The New People’s Army on Friday, July 28, frees PO1 Alfredo Basabica Jr. who was held captive for 17 days in Baganga town, Davao Oriental. (Zea Io Ming C. Capistrano/
DAVAO ORIENTAL, Philippines – The New People’s Army on Friday, July 28, frees PO1 Alfredo Basabica Jr. who was held captive for 17 days.
Basabica, 26 years old and serving the PNP for two years, was freed in Barangay Binondo, Baganga town this province at ​around 3:00 pm. He is ​also a member of ​the ​Provincial Public Safety Company​.

Basabica was on his way to Davao City when he was captured by the NPA around 4pm on July 11 in a checkpoint they set up along K​ilo​m​eter​ 26 Barangay Panansalan in Compostela town, Compostela Valley province.

During his release, Basabica said he was treated well by his captors.

The police officer was received by Barangay Kagawad Alicio Reyes of B​a​r​an​g​a​y Aliwagwag in Cateel town, his parents Alfredo Basabica Sr. and Edelyn Basabica, his fiancee Princess Dacuycuy and Rev. Jurie Jaime convenor of the Exodus for Justice and Peace who acted as a third party facilitator.

Ka Rene, who spoke in behalf of the NPA’s Front 25 said they were scheduled to release Basabica earlier. However he said ongoing military operations prevented them.
According to the release order of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, Basabica “has been investigated by responsible organs of the Detaining Power and sufficient evidence has been established to warrant his prosecution for serious crimes committed against the Filipino people and the revolutionary movement.”

“However, his acts and conduct while under the detention and during the investigation and judicial proceedings have been observed as exhibiting remorse for his offenses and voluntary desistance from committing further crimes against the people and the revolutionary forces,” the release order read.

The release of Basabica came amidst President Rodrigo Duterte’s termination of the peace talks with
the communists.(

Cop, 4 NPA rebels killed in Pangasinan, Sorsogon clashes

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jul 29): Cop, 4 NPA rebels killed in Pangasinan, Sorsogon clashes

A policeman and four suspected communist rebels were killed in separate clashes in the provinces of Pangasinan and Sorsogon on Friday, military and police reports said.

In Pangasinan, a policeman died while another was wounded when they clashed with armed men, believed to be New People’s Army (NPA) rebels, in San Nicolas town.

Senior Supt. Ronald Oliver Lee, Pangasinan police director, said the encounter took place at 9:30 a.m. at Sitio Kampo 4 in Barangay Sta. Maria East when a police patrol chanced upon the armed men.

The gunfight took place near the foot of the Caraballo mountains, where the Villaverde Trail, a road linking Pangasinan and Nueva Vizcaya provinces, is undergoing rehabilitation.

Senior Insp. Arnold Soriano, San Nicolas police chief, did not identify the slain and wounded policemen.

Soriano said policemen from his town and neighboring Tayug, San Quintin and Natividad had reinforced the lawmen fighting the armed men in the area. An Army team was also sent to San Nicolas, he said.

In Sorsogon, four communist rebels, one of them a local NPA leader, were killed in a clash with government soldiers in Casiguran town also on Friday.

Capt. Randy Llunar, public affairs officer of Philippine Army’s 9th Infantry Division, said the clash broke out while soldiers belonging to the 31st Infantry Battalion were patrolling the upland village of Trece Martires at past 5 a.m. The clash site is 10 kilometers from the town center of Casiguran.

The soldiers engaged about 30 rebels in a 30-minute firefight in Sitio Namoro, according to Insp. Joseph Millarez, Casiguran police chief.

Among those killed was rebel leader Andres Hubilla, also known by his aliases Bunso and Magno. Hubilla was secretary of the NPA’s Komiteng Probinsya Sorsogon under the Bicol Regional Party Committee, reports said.
The three other slain rebels had yet to be identified.

Llunar said Hubilla was arrested in 2015 and 2017 but was able to post bail in both instances.

Police said rebellion, murder and attempted murder charges had been filed against Hubilla in a court in Sorsogon City.

Reports said no soldier was wounded or killed in the clash.

Firefights rage between AFP, NPA

From the Philippine Star (Jul 29): Firefights rage between AFP, NPA

Government forces killed four New People’s Army rebels including a commander as firefights with the NPA raged in several provinces following the breakdown of peace talks.

The four rebels were killed in an encounter at dawn yesterday in Casiguran, Sorsogon.

In San Nicolas, Pangasinan, another firefight erupted at 9:30 a.m. and continued until last night. By afternoon, a policeman had been killed and three others were wounded.

There were also attacks in Quirino and Agusan del Sur.

The gun battles erupted just hours after President Duterte visited Thursday night the wake of six policemen killed in an attack by the NPA in Negros Oriental on July 21.

The NPA commander killed in Casiguran was identified as Andres Hadap Jubilla, alias “Ka Magno.”
“Ka Magno was the highest NPA rebel operating in Sorsogon,” said Brig. Gen. Fernando Trinidad, commander of the 903rd Brigade based in Castilla, Sorsogon.

The NPA rebels were killed at 5:05 a.m. during a 10-minute firefight with government troops in Barangay Trece Martires. No one was hurt on the government side.

Trinidad said villagers in Trece Martires tipped off the authorities on the presence of armed men in the area.

Elements from Sorsogon and Casiguran police and Military Intelligence Company conducted a combat operation against the NPA.

The bodies of the three other slain rebels were brought to Casiguran police station for identification.

Trinidad said more combat operations would be launched against NPA rebels in Sorsogon and Masbate under the operational command of the 903rd Brigade.

Senior Supt. Ronald Cabral, Sorsogon provincial director, also ordered all police units near Casiguran to set up checkpoints while police intelligence operatives were directed to check hospitals and clinics where wounded rebels could have been brought for treatment.

New firefight in Pangasinan

Meanwhile, Army and police elements have been dispatched to track down the NPA members who killed a policeman and wounded three others in an encounter in San Nicolas, Pangasinan yesterday morning.

Lt. Col. Isagani Nato, Northern Luzon Command spokesman, said elements of the 84th Mechanized Infantry Battalion and Regional Public Safety Battalion (RPSB) were deployed to support the ongoing operations.

Nato said police elements were conducting combat operations in the hinterlands of San Nicolas when they encountered the rebels at the boundary of Barangay Malico and Sta. Maria around 9:30 a.m.

Senior Supt. Edgar Alan Okubo, head of the RSPB, said 16 to 24 policemen initially responded as suspected NPA members were reportedly about to take over the municipality.

“It was along Villaverde Trail where they met each other,” Okubo said.

Killed in the firefight was PO2 Aries Tamondong of the RPSB. Three policemen were wounded but were not yet identified.

The NPA members are believed to be from Nueva Vizcaya or Benguet. They reportedly could have taken advantage of the non-deployment of Army troops in Pangasinan.

In Quirino, a suspected NPA member died during a continuing skirmish with the military in Barangay San Ramos, Nagtipunan town last Thursday. The firefight forced at least a hundred families to leave their homes.

Lt. Col. Vladimir Cagara, commander of the 86th Army Battalion, said the fatality has yet to be identified and was brought to a funeral parlor in Nagtipunan town.

In Agusan del Sur, policemen foiled an attack by suspected NPA members against a police vehicle patrolling the provincial road in Barangay Del Rio, Sibagat town on Thursday afternoon.

A brief firefight between police and ambushing NPA rebels left one unidentified rebel dead.

Sibagat police are investigating the incident.

UK plans to send warship to S. China Sea in move likely to irk Beijing

From EURACTIV (Jul 27): UK plans to send warship to S. China Sea in move likely to irk Beijing

An aerial view of an unidentified island, part of chain of islands in the Spratly group of islands in the South China Sea, west of Palawan island, Philippines, 21 April 2017. According to news reports, President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to occupy all islands of the Philippines in the South China Sea to strengthen the country's claims. Aside from Philippines and China, other countries have overlapping claims in parts of the South China Sea including Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan. [EPA/FRANCIS R. MALASIG]

Britain plans to send a warship to the disputed South China Sea next year to conduct freedom of navigation exercises, Defence Minister Michael Fallon said on Thursday (27 July), a move likely to anger Beijing.

Britain would increase its presence in the waters after it sent four British fighter planes for joint exercises with Japan in the region last year, he said.

China claims most of the energy-rich sea where neighbours Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.

“We hope to send a warship to region next year. We have not finalised exactly where that deployment will take place but we won’t be constrained by China from sailing through the South China Sea,” Fallon told Reuters.

“We have the right of freedom of navigation and we will exercise it.”

The presence of a British vessel threatens to stoke tensions, escalated by China’s naval build-up and its increasingly assertive stance.

Beijing seeks EU neutrality on South China Sea dispute

The European Union should refrain from taking any action that constitutes interference in the South China Sea issue, Yang Yanyi, China’s ambassador to the EU, told

The comments by Fallon came after Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the country’s two new aircraft carriers would be sent to the region.

Johnson did not specify where exactly the vessels would be sent once operational in 2020, though the presence of such firepower will likely heighten tensions in the region.

China’s construction of islands and military facilities in the South China Sea has stoked international condemnation, amid concern Beijing is seeking to restrict free movement and extend its strategic reach.

Britain’s move could also upset ties between London and Beijing, undermining efforts to shore up what the two governments have called a “golden era” in their relationship as Britain heads towards a divorce with the European Union.

“We flew RAF Typhoons through the South China Sea last October and we will exercise that right whenever we next have the opportunity to do so, whenever we have ships or planes in the region,” Fallon said.

The United States estimates Beijing has added more than 3,200 acres (1,300 hectares) on seven features in the South China Sea over the past three years, building runways, ports, aircraft hangars and communications equipment.

To counter the perceived Chinese aggression, the United States has conducted regular freedom of navigation exercises that have angered Beijing.

Earlier this month, the United States sent two bombers over the region, coming just a few months after it sent a warship to carry out a manoeuvring drill within 12 nautical miles of one of China’s artificial islands.

China has repeatedly denounced efforts by countries from outside the region to get involved in the South China Sea dispute.

The South China Sea is expected to dominate a regional security meeting in Manila next week, where Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will meet counterparts from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries.

Meeting ASEAN diplomats in Beijing on Wednesday, Wang told them both sides must “exclude disturbances on the South China Sea issue, and maintain positive momentum”, China’s Foreign Ministry said.

Islamic State is on Australia’s doorstep: Their secret dens and a mobile phone confirms it

From the Herald Sun (Jul 28): Islamic State is on Australia’s doorstep: Their secret dens and a mobile phone confirms it

AS he descends the dozen steps into total darkness, Corporal Roger Morillo pauses for a moment, less to allow his eyes to adjust and more to note the gravitas of what lies beneath.

The air is dank, the relentless monsoonal rains outside have seeped through the underground plastered walls and the bespectacled young soldier sighs as he twists his slight but tall frame to enter the dungeon.

Some of the 100 soldiers from the Armed Forces of the Philippines have been killed by what was done here in this cramped space below a house in the city of Marawi; some were friends, all were colleagues and their deaths and the continued conflict weighs heavily on most of the 20-something year old soldiers on the newest ISIS frontline.

In the first four weeks of the insurgency in this once lively city of Marawi on the southern Philippines island of Mindanao, Filipino forces suffered more than 300 casualties many maimed from the sorts of injuries from Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) like the ones that were believed to have been made from this and other hidden dens of death.

A mini bomb factory using eight to 10 inch nails packed into urns and other vessels that can tear a body apart and have hampered forces from retaking the city from the Islamic State backed rebels.

“We weren’t expecting this,” the Filipino soldier Morillo says as his torch lights up the dark corners.

MORE: Aussie troops ready to help in Marawi

MORE: The Marawi Suicide Squad have the world’s worst job

Corporal Roger Morillo entered the cellar once used by ISIS militants and inspected it for any evidence. Picture: Gary Ramage

It is not clear whether he means the discovery of the hidden den below a laundry in the home or the broader war that has now entered its third month and has prompted fears across the region it could be the powder keg catalyst for Islamic uprisings across South East Asia.

It is probably more accurate to say everybody expected something like this to happen in the Philippines but perhaps not to the extent of such a well-trained, foreign, financed and organised insurgency that from May 23 has resisted a battalion-sized force of Filipino troops, daily 105mm Howitzer canons pounding and helicopter gunship and aircraft strafes.

Soldiers from the 1st Field Artillery Battalion looking at what ISIS soldiers left behind in Marawi. Picture: Gary Ramage

For many months intelligence agencies have warned that battle-hardened ISIS fighters being routed in Iraq and Syria were setting up a new front and had formed alliances between up to six jihadist groups in the Philippines including the deadly Abu Sayef and Maute groups and Ansar Khalifa Philippines and 60 groups elsewhere in the region including the remnants of the Indonesian-based Jemaah Islamiah — the group behind the 2002 and 2005 Bali bombings.

But despite suspicions hundreds of jihadists had slipped into Philippines across the Sulu Sea from Indonesia, Sulawesi and Kalimantan or just flying in on direct commercial flights including from Turkey to attend jihadist training camps, when Marawi happened it still caught many off guard.

Soldiers from the 1st Field Artillery Battalion at a fire support base, outside of Marawi, inspect a cellar of an abandoned house where ISIS militants used to hide. Picture: Gary Ramage

For the four Australian Federal Police agents who flew out to sprawling Davao City in the Philippines southern province of Mindanao in September last year, their brief was simple.

Provide 28 Filipino senior counterparts with high-level training on counter terrorism intelligence gathering, the signs to look for, analysis of social media and review the latest information available on the movement of foreign Islamic State fighters.

The course did not take place that next day.

The night before it was to be held, along Roxas Avenue in the city’s central business district night markets, an improvised explosive device was detonated killing 15 people and wounding 70 others. Two of the AFP members, instead of lecturing in a classroom, joined Filipino counterparts in actively investigating the bombing, their involvement later praised by Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte.

It became apparent the Davao bombing was not part of the regular three decades of violence in Mindanao by secessionist and or Muslim groups, with the strategy and bomb making hinting at overseas influence and an alignment between groups.

But still ISIS on South East Asia’s doorstep felt more like rumour or the bragging by a desperate militant until Marawi and specifically the discovery of a mobile phone.

An abandoned house where ISIS militants used to hide. Picture: Gary Ramage

On it was a video where Filipino militant Isnilon Hapilon, who receives instructions directly from ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, could be seen literally drawing out a battle plan to capture a city and inspire Islamic revolution across the region in much the same way ISIS had captured Raqqa and Mosul.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, one Australian intelligence agent involved in the counter terrorism fight said events in the Philippines were long viewed as the greatest threat to regional security but the phone clip was proof.

“Mindanao is of far greater concern as a magnet for extremism than what has happened say in London or Manchester but it has got little attention here,” he said.

“I get the colonial ties and all but what’s happening in the Philippines is a seven and a half-hour flight from Sydney, it’s in our backyard but we talk more about what has happened over there (UK) than what is happening here, front and centre of Australia.”

The leader of the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Picture: AFP
ASIO and ASIS last year deployed resources across the region to analyse the marked threat in extremism but also the erosion of secular sentiment, particularly in Indonesia, in favour of Muslim militancy that threatens to evolve into something more. The AFP has also taken a lead in counter terrorism in the Philippines, performing in joint investigations and 15 counter-terrorism training courses in the past 12 months, their biggest commitment since 2004 when a whole squad was dispatched in 2004 in the post- 9/11 terror probes wash-up. It earlier this year also brought Filipino counter terrorism chiefs together with counterparts from Indonesia and Malaysia to create joint strategies to tackle ISIS, a second meeting slated for later this year.

Now the Australian Defence Force is also looking at how it can help. Two RAAF P3 Orion surveillance aircraft have already performed missions over Marawi for Filipino ground troops and Defence Minister Marise Payne has told News Corp the ADF stood by to do more if requested, including looking at training Filipino soldiers in urban warfare tactics. The US has also provided technical military advisers and weapons, China has also provided weapons and Russia has pledged unspecific assistance.

Philippine Marines soldiers in a cleared street but are still in range of enemy sniper fire as they walk towards the main battle area in Marawi. Picture: Getty

Last week President Duterte extended martial law across Mindanao, a region of 22 million people, until the end of the year but took the heat out of his action by offering greater autonomy to the region’s predominant Muslim population if they actively rejected ISIS.

“This is the best antidote to the violent extremism that has wrought havoc in many Muslim areas,” militant turned political group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Vice Chairman Ghazali Jaafar said.

But it might be too little too late. The reason the Marawi conflict has continued for so long, and claimed the lives of at least 600 people and displaced an incredible 500,000 people, has been local support and the amount of food and arms, including military-grade assault rifles and rocket propelled grenades and mortars, the extremists have stockpiled but also foreign support.

This is a siege that was months in the planning and according to intelligence, cost at least AUD$2.5 million to finance, mostly from overseas supporters in the Middle East and Malaysia.

When on May 23 the Filipino army moved to arrest Hapilon they suspected he was backed by a force of 40 militants but it was closer to 400. That number swelled to 700 not least from when the militants broke into a jail for support, like ISIS had done in Iraq.

A government sniper training his sight on enemy positions in Marawi. Picture: Getty

But it was the number of foreigners in his ragtag ranks that has shocked some, militants from Malaysia and Indonesia but also as far away as Yemen and Chechnya; some 40 foreigners have been killed in Marawi many identified through passports and other documents.

An estimated 1000 South East Asians have travelled to ISIS-controlled territories in the Middle East with intelligence pointing to many of those having survived battles there, already having slipped backed into the region. The proof was now in Marawi.

The Battle of Marawi is ongoing between the Philippines Army and the ISIS terrorists. Picture: Gary Ramage

Adbal Karim Ambor, a local Muslim Ustadz leader who ranks above an imam, said the foreigners slipped into Marawi the day before the May 23 uprising under the cover of attending the annual Sunni Tablighi Jamaat gathering. It was reported to authorities but no action was taken.

“The bigger problem we need to look into is the ‘rido’ or clan war because what is happening now is there are clan wars the military does not get involved in, they will leave the fight and so there remains the real possibility the rido will lead to extremism or encourage some to join extremism,” he told News Corp.

“After the war there will also be conflicts over land. When residents go back and fight for their lands and that will inflame clan wars and promote terrorism. So this is more of a concern as this will be a bigger problem later on.”

Philippine Marines soldiers walk towards the main battle area in Marawi. Picture: Getty

Armed Force of the Philippines spokesman Lt Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera said Marawi and urban warfare could be a new norm in the region and the ADF could be recruited to help train his forces as they have done since 2015 for 20,000 security personnel in Iraq.

“I think this is now the trend, so I think there should be more engagement between our two countries or multilateral approaches in dealing with terrorism,” Col Herrera said.

“Countries should come together to share their knowledge and expertise in dealing with the menace of this generation. I can see the enemy is well connected as seen by the presence of foreign terrorists here so those should be cut off, those logistic supports, cut not just in the Philippines but other Asian countries.”

Ambor said recruitment for ISIS was rampant in his region despite his and others pleading to resist the call.

“This is only going to get worse, they (ISIS) are recruiting the young with money, the problem is only just beginning.”

PH Air Force gets weapons from U.S.

From Rappler (Jul 29): PH Air Force gets weapons from U.S.

'The munitions and weapons will enhance the AFP’s counterterrorism capabilities, and directly support AFP members actively engaged in counterterrorism operations in the southern Philippines, including Marawi,' the US embassy says

US SUPPORT. Members the US and Philippine armies unload and inspect a delivery of  rockets from the US to the Armed Forces of the Philippines at Clark Air Base, Pampanga. Photo from the US Embassy

US SUPPORT. Members the US and Philippine armies unload and inspect a delivery of rockets from the US to the Armed Forces of the Philippines at Clark Air Base, Pampanga. Photo from the US Embassy

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) has received weapons and munitions from the United States, “part of a series of upcoming transfers” from the US military that would help government forces in their war on terror, the US embassy in Manila said on Saturday, July 29.
The US embassy said in a statement that officials from the Joint United States Military Assistance Group (JUSMAG) recently delivered 1,040 2.75-inch rocket motors and 992 2.75-inch rockets to the PAF through the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA).

“These timely transfers greatly enhance the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) counterterrorism efforts. They are part of a series of upcoming transfers from the US military to multiple branches of the AFP through both MLSA and the security assistance program,” the embassy said.

"Through the MLSA, the AFP is able to receive select munitions and equipment from US military stock in an accelerated process reserved for allies and close partners of the United States," it added.

The announcement is made two days after the PAF officially received two Cessna C-208B Grand Caravan aircraft from the US as part of a grant to the Philippines. (READ: PH Air Force gets new surveillance planes from U.S.)

The US embassy also said the Philippine Army is set to receive 250 rocket-propelled grenade launchers and 1,000 M203 grenade launchers, also through the security assistance program.
"The munitions and weapons deliveries will enhance the AFP’s counterterrorism capabilities, and directly support AFP members actively engaged in counterterrorism operations in the southern Philippines, including Marawi," it said.

US military assistance to the Philippines comes as government troops continued to battle local terrorists linked to the Islamic State (ISIS) in Marawi City. US special forces have been providing "technical support" to government troops in Marawi. (READ: TIMELINE: Marawi clashes prompt martial law in Mindanao)

When he assumed office, President Rodrigo Duterte embarked on an "independent foreign policy" that sought to wean the Philippines from its traditional allies like the US, and bring the country closer to others like China and Russia.

Amid the Philippines' pivot to China, the US reiterated its strong ties with its treaty ally.

"The United States is a proud and steadfast ally of the Philippines and will continue to provide support to the AFP’s long-term modernization goals and counterterrorism needs," the embassy said.

The Philippines and the US are bound by a Mutual Defense Treaty inked in 1951 and a more recent Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) signed in 2014.

U.S. Delivers Two C-208B Aircraft to Philippine Air Force

From the US Department of Defense (Jul 28): U.S. Delivers Two C-208B Aircraft to Philippine Air Force

The U.S. yesterday formally delivered two new Cessna 208B Grand Caravan intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft to the Philippine Air Force during a handover ceremony.

Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Gen. Eduardo Año, Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana, U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Y. Kim, and Secretary of Foreign Affairs Alan Peter Cayetano at the turnover and blessing ceremony for two new Cessna 208B aircraft from the U.S. to the Philippine Air Force at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City, the Philippines, July 27, 2017. U.S. Embassy Manila photo 
The delivery of the aircraft is part of a $33 million package through the U.S. National Defense Authorization Act Building Partnership Capacity Program to provide equipment and training to improve Philippine counterterrorism response capability.

U.S. Pacific Command’s deputy commander, Army Lt. Gen. Bryan P. Fenton, joined U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Y. Kim at the ceremony.

Strong Alliance

“The U.S.-Philippine alliance is one of our most enduring, and the bilateral relationship has been a cornerstone of stability in the region for decades. This C208 event is just one example of our partnership and shared commitment to stopping the spread of violent extremism in the region,” Fenton said.

Over the past decade, the U.S. has provided more than $179 million in counterterrorism equipment and training, including small arms, ammunition, communication tools, and surveillance equipment. The U.S. has also provided reconnaissance aircraft and pilot training, uniforms and body armor, combat rubber raiding crafts, night vision devices, rockets and unmanned aerial systems.

Arrival of the C-208B ISR aircraft provides the Armed Forces of the Philippines with technologically advanced ISR capability in support of counterterrorism operations. The ISR capability includes line-of-sight live data and air-to-ground info streaming.

Delivery of the aircraft comes amidst ongoing conflicts in Marawi between the AFP and local militant extremist groups.

Fighting Militants

Since the beginning of the conflict in late May 2017, U.S. Special Operations Forces have been assisting the AFP with ongoing operations in Marawi mainly by providing information and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assistance to AFP commanders in their fight against Maute and Abu Sayyaf Group militants.

U.S. special operators have been providing support to the southern Philippines at the request of several Filipino administrations for many years.

Since 2002, the U.S. and Philippines have also maintained a Mutual Logistics Support Agreement which, during the recent conflicts in Marawi, has allowed the AFP to swiftly request and acquire material from the U.S.

In addition to equipment and training, the U.S. has also provided support for improving the infrastructure at Philippine military installations. Over the last 10 years, Pacom has invested $14.6 million in construction projects, with 48 projects completed or underway. All projects support bilateral training objectives and capability development.

The C-280B aircraft flew to Edwin Andrews Air Base in Zamboanga, Philippines, after the ceremony and in-country flight training for the aircraft is slated to begin August 1.

In coordination with allies and partners such as the Philippines, Pacom is committed to enhancing stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region by promoting security cooperation, encouraging peaceful development, responding to contingencies, and deterring aggression.

Joma: I’ll return to PH on my terms

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jul 29): Joma: I’ll return to PH on my terms

'Joma Sison. FILE PHOTO

Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Jose Maria Sison on Friday said he would return to the Philippines on his own terms and not on the dictates of President Duterte.

“If deemed necessary by the revolutionary movement, I will return to the Philippines to fight the Duterte puppet regime of US imperialism,” Sison said in online interviews.

“I choose the battlefield where I fight and the types of battles that I wage. These cannot be dictated [upon] by [Mr.] Duterte, who hopes vainly that the US and European intelligence would tip him off as soon as I leave The Netherlands for the Philippines,” he said.

On Thursday, the President called Sison a coward for living comfortably in Utrecht, The Netherlands, while communist rebels fought government troops in the Philippines.

Mr. Duterte dared Sison to return to the country and lead the communist insurgents.

Sison and his wife Juliet went into exile and settled in The Netherlands after the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution that ousted strongman President Ferdinand Marcos.

Sison dismissed Mr. Duterte’s statements, citing his active involvement with the New People’s Army (NPA), the CPP’s armed wing, during the Marcos dictatorship.
[VIDEO : Duterte challenges Joma to ‘return home and fight here’]

“I was an active part of the people’s war against the Marcos regime [from] 1969 to 1977, and then went to fascist prison for another nine years,” Sison said.

“I surpass the field record of many reactionary military officers who are in the field for a few years until they are assigned desk jobs and then retire at the age of 56,” said the 78-year-old Sison.

He reminded Mr. Duterte that they were both “well past the age of retirement” in the NPA and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Immediately after his election last year, Mr. Duterte had invited Sison to return to the Philippines and talk peace with the government.
In April, Mr. Duterte repeated his invitation to Sison to return home for medical treatment, which the President had volunteered to pay.

The President assured Sison that he would not be arrested and could live as a free man.

Sison, however, politely turned down the invitations.

Sison said Mr. Duterte’s position on the issue of his return was inconsistent.

“His inconsistency is getting more evident. The way he continues to talk, he really hates to engage in peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP),” Sison said.

He said Mr. Duterte should “try to be sober” and allow the government peace panel to do its job of forging peace agreements with NDFP.

Despite his word war with Mr. Duterte, Sison still believed that the peace negotiations would resume.

“Shouting war is irrelevant if we really aim to end the shooting war,” Sison said.

AFP says it won’t bomb lumad schools

From ABS-CBN (Jul 28): AFP says it won’t bomb lumad schools

The Armed Forces of the Philippines on Friday said it would not literally take President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to bomb lumad schools which he said are being used to indoctrinate young indigenous peoples with communism.

AFP Spokesperson Brigadier General Restituto Padilla Jr. said the president was merely trying to drive a point against the “illegal” establishment of lumad schools.

“It was just a matter of strongly communicating a strong position on behalf of government to warn this illegal educational centers who are not complying with government regulation,” Padilla said in a news conference in Malacañang.

Duterte on Monday threatened to order the bombing of lumad schools for teaching children to go against the government, as his once-vibrant ties with the Left turned sour because of the collapse of talks between the government and the National Democratic Front.

The plight of the lumad was highlighted by the September 2015 killings of Emerito Samarca, a head teacher of an award-winning school for Lumad youth in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, and Lumad leaders Dionel Campos and Juvello Sinzo by paramilitary forces.

Lumad groups, some of whom are based in Duterte’s home region, have pinned their hopes of justice and fair treatment on the firebrand leader, a self-proclaimed socialist.

However, the atmosphere has changed significantly now as the feisty leader seemed to have had enough of the communists, who are being associated with lumad groups.

According to Padilla, lumad schools are “brainwashing” children so they would go against government and perpetuate their “evil” line of thinking.

“The reason why the DepEd (Department of Education) is regulating the way we teach in schools is to make it comply and conform with the value system we want our citizens to learn,” Padilla said.

“But if you target very young minds, vulnerable minds, and try to sway them to a certain kind of thinking, that is brainwashing. Iyon ang mali dito… Fear of God, love of country, love of family, appreciation of the correct values. These schools are not teaching that.”


Duterte himself clarified on Thursday that he had no intention to order the bombing of lumad schools while children are inside them.

“Yes, wala akong sinabi na bombahan ko 'yang may tao kaya sinabi ko umalis kayo diyan. Ibig sabihin, sisirain ko 'yan because you are using a school without a license from the Department of Education,” Duterte told reporters in Negros Oriental.

“Dito sa Pilipinas may batas. Bago ka makabukas ng eskwelahan, you have to have the necessary clearances and everything from government. You are using a building there.”

The President added, lumad schools “destroy the mental health of the children.”

“They grow up there hating government and going to war pag ka malaki na. You are perpetuating the violence in this country and I have to stop it,” he said.

“I have every reason to stop it because you are producing another generation of haters.”


Presidential Communications Assistant Secretary Ana Marie Banaag, citing data from the DepEd, noted that there are three main groups of left-oriented indigenous peoples schools in the country.

These schools are the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development, Inc. (Alcadev), Center for Lumad Advocacy and Services, Inc. (CLANS), and the Salugpungan Community Learning Center.

Banaag said, Alcadev has no permit to operate and refuses to get a permit from the DepEd. The Clans, on the other hand, has been given 3 months to comply with DepEd requirements.

“There are three indigenous people schools that have been constructed by the Department of Social Welfare and Development. It is the illegal lumad schools which drew the President’s adverse reaction,” Banaag said.


Meanwhile, human rights group Karapatan said lumad students and teachers have filed complaints against paramilitary groups for allegedly attacking lumad schools before the Joint Monitoring Committee on the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), one of the mechanisms established by the government and the communist rebels in the course of the peace talks.

The students and teachers also raised concerns over Duterte’s recent pronouncements against them.

“It is lamentable that the Duterte administration continues to encourage such brazen violation of the lumad children’s right to education, instead of supporting the indigenous people’s initiatives to provide free and progressive education to their communities,” said Rius Valle, spokesperson of Save Our Schools Mindanao.

Ending the decades-old communist insurgency has been a top priority for Duterte, but talks have been on and off under the feisty leader, who has accused the communists of being "two-faced" because of their continued armed attacks against government forces.

The President has also lambasted the rebels for collecting “revolutionary taxes” from businesses.

The friction between Duterte and communist leaders also went up another level when the President placed the entire Mindanao under martial law to address the terror threat posed by Islamist extremists.

Duterte said his government will focus on decimating the communist rebels once state troops are done dealing with Islamist extremists sowing terror in Mindanao.

9 soldiers injured in Maguindanao explosion

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jul 28): 9 soldiers injured in Maguindanao explosion

Nine soldiers were injured when suspected militants set off an improvised explosive device (IED) in Rajah Buayan, Maguindanao on Friday evening, police said.

Senior Supt. Agustin Tello, the Maguindanao police provincial director, said soldiers from the 40th Infantry Battalion were on a KM-450 Army vehicle and were passing by a dirt road in Barangay Pidsandawan when the blast occurred at 7:50 p.m.

Injured were Privates First Class Kevenino Abines, Jayson Abat, Crisanto Lemente, Jennil Distura and Jemuel Enocito, and Corporals Kevin John Burlatos, Marlon Abrenilla, Raymund Rosare and Rommel Besus.

They sustained shrapnel injuries in various parts of the body and were now undergoing medication at the Maguindanao provincial hospital in Shariff Aguak town, also in Maguindanao, he said.

Tello said the infantry men were on their way to the battalion command post in Barangay Zapakan, also in Rajah Buayan, when the explosion took place.

After the blast, armed men positioned nearby opened fire on the government forces.

Outnumbered and injured, the soldiers returned fire as they sped off.

Abu Misri Mama, speaking for the BIFF, later claimed that his group, which pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, was behind the ambush.

He said none of their men was harmed in the brief exchange of fire with the fleeing soldiers.