Monday, February 4, 2019

5 Jolo blast suspects yield

From MindaNews (Feb 4, 2019): 5 Jolo blast suspects yield


Soldiers check on the cathedral after improvised explosive devices went off inside and outside the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Cathedral in Jolo, Sulu on Sunday, 27 January 2019. Photo courtesy of AFP Western Mindanao Command

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/04 February) – The main suspect in the twin bombings of the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral in Jolo, Sulu and four others had surrendered, police said on Monday.

Police Director General Oscar Albayalde said Kammah L. Pae alias Kamah surrendered after a week of relentless police and military operations following the January 27 blasts that left 23 persons dead and 95 others wounded.

Earlier reports said 22 persons were killed and over 100 others were injured.

The blasts came days after the island province of Sulu rejected in a plebiscite the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Albayalde said Pae or Kamah was allegedly part of the team that escorted the “suicide bombers,” an Asian couple, to the cathedral last Jan. 27.

He said the suspect is one of the leaders of the Ajang-Ajang group composed mostly of orphans of the Abu Sayyaf.

He identified those who surrendered with Kamah as Albaji Kisae Gadjali alias Awa, Rajan Bakil Gadjali alias Radjan, Kaisar Bakil Gadjali alias Isal and Salit Alih alias Papong.
“They are believed to be responsible and conspired for the terrorist attack at the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Cathedral where 23 persons died and 95 others were wounded,” Albayalde said in a statement that gave different figures on the persons who were killed and wounded in the blasts.

Earlier, the PNP presented CCTV clips of alleged suspects, who later turned out to be students. They were cleared after an investigation.

Albayalde added 14 more suspects remain at large including the alleged mastermind, Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, leader of the ISIS-linked Abu Sayyaf.

The official identified some of them as Sawadjaan, the alleged leader; Makrim J. Habbisi, alias Makrim; Barak Ingug, alias Barak Abdulgani; Usman alias Ubin; a certain Arab Puti; and nine “John Does.”

He said the plan to bomb Mt. Carmel cathedral started on Jan. 7, 2019 when Usman and a certain Muksin tried to assemble the improvised explosives in Barangay Latih, Patikul town in Sulu.

Usman and Muksin later abandoned the bomb-making effort, according to Albayalde.

He said Sawadjaan met Usman and Muksin and gave them money to proceed.

He said Asian suicide bombers arrived in Jolo by pump boat from nearby Lampinigan Island on Jan. 24.

He said Papong, Awag and Radjan met the couple and later had an alleged meeting with Sawadjaan to plan the bombing.

Albayalde said both foreigners carried black trolley bags.

“It is believed that the Indonesian woman detonated the 1st IED inside the Jolo cathedral while the man detonated the second IED at the church entrance seconds later,” he said.

He said police forensic technicians were able to reconstruct the bombs and found out that the bombers used common GI pipes that served as casings.

“It possibly contained ammonium nitrate-fuel oil compound as primary explosive charge and boosted by secondary explosives possibly PETN, TNT or RDX,” he said.

He said the bomb designs and composition were similar to those used and detonated by the Abu Sayyaf in the past.

‘No suicide bombers’

The military last week dispelled the possibility that the explosions were the handiwork of suicide bombers.

Quoting unnamed wounded victims, Armed Forces of the Philippines Public Affairs chief Col. Noel Detoyato said on Tuesday last week that a woman hid the bomb in a bag and left it in one of the pews inside the cathedral.

He said the explosion happened after the woman left the bag.

Also last week, the military released surveillance footage of a man, supposedly Alias Kamah, triggering the explosive device.

Kamah ran away from the church with several companions moments after the explosion, said Col. Gerry Besana, spokesperson of the military’s Western Mindanao Command.

NegOr readies livelihood aid for rebel returnees

From the Philippine Information Agency (Feb 4, 2019): NegOr readies livelihood aid for rebel returnees

NEGROS ORIENTAL – Governor Roel Degamo has assured the public that the provincial government is ready to assist rebels who would surrender and lay down their firearms.

In his year-end message, Gov. Degamo said the province is serious in providing livelihood or financial assistance to communist rebels who would return to mainstream society.

Last year, four rebel surrrenderers from the municipalities of Mabinay and Zamboanguita were given P65,000 each worth of financial assistance under government’s Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP).

“As I said we cannot win peace by bullet and arm[ed] struggle, and the province has a roadmap for peace and order program that we follow” the governor cited.

For those rebel returnees who have already benefitted [from] our livelihood assistance to call on their families, relatives and friends to help us convince them to go down from the mountains and take this life-changing opportunity, said Degamo.

The E-CLIP facilitates the mainstreaming of former NPA rebels and Militia ng Bayan to be productive citizens which also compensates and remunerates all turned-in firearms.

Meanwhile, the governor lamented the killing of six people during a series of police operations in the province late in December last year.

With this, the governor has called for an impartial investigation on the killing of the six civilians in what the police describe as a shootout.

Degamo requested the top management of the Philippine National Police that whenever a police operations to be conducted the police team has to coordinate and inform the provincial government, “We have a template to follow in terms of safety implementation,” he added.

“I believe the operations in Guihulngan City was legitimate because there were search warrants, but with six people killed, as a governor it is my duty to protect the residents of the province,” Degamo said.

“If they are supporters of the New People’s Army then we will arrest them rather than kill[ed] them because it hurts others and creates friction, what had happened. they burned the heavy equipment in Ayungon town,” he added.

The governor expects that next police operations to be conducted, his office should be informed as he believes that coordination with each other is one approach for efficient and diplomatic moves.

Military crushes BIFF camp after members’ tip-off

From the Business World (Feb 3, 2019): Military crushes BIFF camp after members’ tip-off

Former members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, who voluntarily surrendered, provided intelligence to the military. -- TAJALLIH S. BASMAN

THE PHILIPPINE military destroyed on Saturday a main camp of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a local extremist group that has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS), after members who have earlier surrendered provided crucial information.

Major General Cirilito E. Sobejana, commander of the Philippine Army’s 6th Infantry Division and Joint Task Force (JTF) Central, said they have been planning the operation since former-BIFF members who voluntarily turned themselves in to authorities provided intelligence on the group’s stronghold.

“We deliberately concealed this to the public because we had an ongoing operations against the BIFF in Maguindanao. We did not want them to know we have their former members,” Mr. Sobejana said in a press conference Sunday in Cotabato City, where the 10 ex-BIFF fighters were also present.

JTF Central launched surgical air, artillery and ground operation at 6 a.m. of Feb. 2 after it identified targets in Tatak, Barangay Tugal, Sultan Sa Barongis in Maguindanao where the group led by Saluhudin Hassan were encamped.

The military, in a statement, said they destroyed an estimated 20-capacity bunkers and foxholes of the IS-inspired group.

Mr. Sobejana also said that civilians were secured prior to the operation.

“We ease the fear of our people and assure them that safety procedures were undertaken and deliberately planned by JTFC giving due concern to the safety of the civilian populace,” he said.

He added that the military also coordinated with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (MILF CCCH).

The BIFF is a breakaway group from the MILF, which signed a peace agreement with the government in 2014.

“Appropriate coordination was also made with MILF CCCH and the targeted areas were confined to locations far from the local communities,” said Mr. Sobejana.

Initial reports, he said, indicate that 10 BIFF members were killed and several wounded, including the leader Hassan.

“Walo ‘yung patay, may mga pangalan kami pero ‘yung iba ibina-validate pa namin kasi unnamed…tapos sampu ‘yung wounded kasama si Salahudin Hassan (Eight were dead, we have their names, but the rest we are still validating it because they are unnamed… then there were 10 wounded which includes Salahudin Hassan),” Mr. Sobejana said in a message to reporters in Manila on Sunday afternoon.

Soldiers on the ground encountered as estimated 70 to 100 BIFF members in the camp, which Mr. Sobejana described as a wide area.

“Medyo may kalawakan yung area, yung nasapol talaga ‘yung main camp nila (The area is quite wide, what we hit was their main camp),” Mr. Sobejana said.


At the press conference, the former BIFF members told the media that their reasons for surrendering were a mix of missing their families, pressure from the focused military pursuit operations, and seeing new hope in government.

“We are tired of hiding,” said Alan Saligan, son of BIFF commander Gani Saligan, the oldest among those who surrendered.

“Hindi din naman nila kami natutulungan (The group has been unable to help us),” he added.

Mr. Sobejana said there are also indications of a power struggle within the BIFF, which pushed some members to return to the fold of law.

The surrenderers also turned over their weapons, including 50 cal. sniper, Ultimax, M14, and a 45 caliber.

CPP-NPA ordered Malayao murder, says former rebel

From the Manila Standard (Feb 4, 2019): CPP-NPA ordered Malayao murder, says former rebel 

The group Kilusan at Alyansa ng mga Dating Rebelde, which is composed of former communist rebels, on Monday said the local leftists ordered the murder of National Democratic Front consultant Randy Malayao.

KADRE’s “Ka George,” a former rebel who said he worked with Malayao during their time with the communist-led National Youth, said he had evidence to prove that the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-NDF was behind the killing of Malayao.

His statement dovetails with a police statement over the weekend that said Malayao was sentenced to die by the Reds’ revolutionary justice system or “kangaroo court” for dipping into revolutionary taxes or “permit to campaign” and “permit to win” fees taken from political aspirants in Regions 1, 2 and the Cordillera Autonomous Region.

Malayao was gunned down while sleeping on board a bus in Aritao, Nueva Vizcaya heading to Cagayan province early Wednesday morning, January 30.

Ka George, who asked that his real name be withheld to protect his family and fellow former rebels, said the “hit” on Malayao can be likened to the bombing of Plaza Miranda in Manila in 1971.

That event was initially denied by the communist group, which pinned the blame on former President Ferdinand Marcos. However, during the 1980s, a member of the communists admitted that it was CPP founder Jose Ma. “Joma” Sison had ordered the bombing to start a revolution, Ka George noted.

Amid growing curiousity over the identities of Malayao’s assassins, the CPP-NPA on Sunday had released a new press statement condemning the summary execution of Malayao and blaming President Rodrigo Duterte and the military for it.

“This aims to cover up the responsibility of state agents, specifically Rodrigo Duterte’s death squads, which he himself ordered to carry out the killing,” Sison said even after the Palace already expressed its condolences to the bereaved families of the slain communist.

According to Ka George, before the killing, Malayao told the communist group he was taking a break from the organization and was heading to Cagayan.

Malayao was formerly the vice president of College Editor’s Guild of the Philippines. He entered the communist movement in 1992, during the time that caused a breakup between the so-called reaffirmists or RAs, who affirmed the leadership of Sison and adopted the Maoist line of guerrilla warfare, rejectionists or RJs who rejected Joma.
A third group within the Reds was called Rejoice that was eventually renamed into the Makabayan bloc, Ka George said. Malayao, he added, is the product of this streamlining who joined the RA.

Part of the streamlining of the RA, the KADRE member said, is the “experimental joining” in the parliamentary struggle through the selection of candidates who would be part of party-list groups like Bayan Muna, Gabriela, Anakpawis, Migrante, ACT, Kabataan, Piston and a political party like Makabayan.

But Malayao used the parliamentary struggle and party-list operations of the communist group as a source of funds for the CPP, particularly to support the NPA, Ka George said.

Millions of pesos were collected from party-list operations and from the alliance with the traditional parties and individuals, he said.

Malayao also led the debate and the formation of a group of “new guards” in the communist movement that became “a thorn on the side of Joma Sison,” Ka George said.

“This is also the reason why Malayao was being encouraged to join the peace negotiations in The Netherlands and Norway to place him under loyalty check of the old guards,” he added.

Malayao no longer agree with the management of the communist leaders, which is why he asked for a break and returned to the Philippines, the KADRE member added.

Army to track down foreign terrorists with local links

From the Gulf Times (Feb 4, 2019): Army to track down foreign terrorists with local links


Manila Police District police personnel gear up for the upcoming celebration of Chinese New Year by conducting vicinity checks in Chinatown, Binondo, Manila to prevent acts of violence.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines is going after foreign terrorists being coddled by the Abu Sayyaf Group based in Sulu, following a deadly encounter in Patikul town on Saturday.

Col. Gerry Besana, spokesman for the military’s Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom), said the foreigners were embedded in Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan’s Ajang-Ajang subgroup under the Abu Sayyaf terror and kidnap group.

Sawadjaan’s group is believed to be behind the deadly blasts at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral in Jolo, Sulu a week ago.

The Ajang-Ajang group is composed of orphans and children of the Abu Sayyaf. They run errands for their superiors in the terrorist group.

Besana said the foreign terrorists attached to Sawadjaan’s group in the Abu Sayyaf were being tracked down by the military.

Aside from the Abu Sayyaf, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) is also coddling foreign terrorists. The Philippine Army believes the BIFF has members coming from the Middle East, Singapore and Malaysia.

“We can’t give a definite number as to how many, as well as their nationalities, because those are operational details,” he told reporters.

Besana said Sawadjaan, himself, and his group had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS), attracting foreigners to join his group in Sulu.

Following Saturday’s encounter in Patikul, the military’s Joint Task Force Sulu said that among the fatalities was a foreign terrorist named Abu Black, whose nationality remained in question. A source, however, said he may have come from Egypt.

 Lt Gen. Arnel de la Vega, WestMinCom commander, said the military had been co-ordinating with its counterparts in Malaysia and Indonesia regarding the presence of foreign terrorists in the Philippines.

These include trilateral patrolling through a trilateral agreement among the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia.

“We are going in the right direction as far as collaboration with other countries is concerned,” de la Vega told reporters in a separate interview in Jolo, Sulu.

Speaking to Arab News on Thursday, Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the Philippines had monitored foreign terrorists from Yemen, Morocco, Malaysia and Indonesia roaming around Sulu, Basilan and the Central Mindanao provinces.

Lorenzana, citing “unconfirmed reports,” said there were about 40 foreign terrorists spotted in Mindanao.

He said there was a small group composed of Indonesian and Malaysian terrorists who came from Syria and entered the country through its southern backdoor.

Meanwhile, eight terrorists were killed while 10 wounded, including a terror leader, during military operations against the BIFF late Saturday in Maguindanao, the Philippine Army disclosed yesterday.
Maj. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division (ID), said five of the eight extremists killed in the firefight in Sultan Sa Barongis, Maguindanao have been identified.

They were Hashim, Abo Salik, Abo Tutin, Saidin Kusain and Guabar Sulaima, while three remain unidentified.

Sobejana said the BIFF group, or the ones under the Torayfe faction, were accompanied by foreign terrorists including those from the Middle East, two Malaysians and a Singaporean identified only as Mawiya.

The faction that soldiers engaged with on Saturday was headed by Salahudin Hasan, a sub-commander of the Dawlah Islamiyah Torayfe faction.

Based on the military’s report, Hasan was among the critically wounded during the firefight that lasted for about four hours.

Sobejana also said that the camp of the BIFF members was seized by soldiers following the encounter.

Recently, a brigade commander of the BIFF surrendered to the military, he said. He was identified as Gani Saligan.

 According to Sobejana, Saligan had a rift with Hasan, which was why when the former yielded, he pinpointed the exact location of the BIFF leader to authorities.

Saturday’s encounter also involved air strikes through the Philippine Air Force’s FA-50 fighter jets.
The Joint Task Force Central (JTFC) intensified focused military operations at a terrorist lair in South Tatak, Barangay Tugal, Sultan Sa Barongis, Maguindnao at about 6am on Saturday and destroyed 20-capacity bunkers and foxholes.

According to Maj. Arvin Encinas, spokesman of the 6th Infantry Division (6ID), yesterday, the JTFC launched surgical air, artillery and ground operations on the confirmed targets against the IS-inspired terrorist group under Salahudin Hassan.

He said the successful operation was a result of positive information and support provided by the former members of the BIFF who surrendered to JTF Central.

“We ease the fear of our people and assure them that JTFC undertook safety procedures as they planned the attack giving due concern to the safety of the civilian populace,” JTFC Commander Sobejana said.

“Appropriate co-ordination was also made with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s Co-ordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (MILF-CCCH) and the targeted areas were confined to locations far from the local communities,” Sobejana added.

“I am very determined to defeat these threat groups and prevent them from doing terroristic activities to bring about peace in Central Mindanao,” Sobejana continued.

Following the twin bombings that rocked Sulu last week, Malacanang urged Filipinos to remain vigilant and co-operate with the government regarding terror threats.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Martin Andanar said in a radio interview that this would be the only way to ensure the safety of Filipinos.

“Now, we have to be vigilant. We have to co-operate with our government; we have to co-operate with the (military); we co-operate with the Philippine National Police and our local government units. That is the surest way that is the surest way to ensure our safety,” he said.

Andanar also insisted that religion did not come into play on the bombings. He echoed the statement of the Palace earlier that the explosions justified the implementation of the martial law in the country.
He said that if martial law and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus were not implemented in Mindanao, the situation would have been worse.

“If there is a martial law there and these things happen, what will happen if there is none? So, do not meddle with the martial law in Mindanao because it is good,” he said.

The Big Read: Battered in the Middle East, IS eyes Southeast Asia as next terrorism hotspot

From Channel News Asia (Feb 4): The Big Read: Battered in the Middle East, IS eyes Southeast Asia as next terrorism hotspot (By Faris Mokhtar)

singapore security jemaah islamiyah

Singapore police and members of the army stand guard as the authorities deploy a massive manhunt for Mas Selamat, the alleged leader of the Jemaah Islamiyah network in Singapore on Feb 28, 2008 following his escape from custody. (Photo: AFP PHOTO/ROSLAN RAHMAN)
SINGAPORE: The terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (IS) is today a shadow of its once-formidable self in the Middle East, with its army in tatters and its territories reduced to a sliver of turf.

But the IS ideology — which includes the setting up of a caliphate — is far from dead and buried.

And its supporters, including those who have returned home after fighting wars in Iraq and Syria, have now set their sights on turning South-east Asia into the next terrorism hotspot.

For IS, the region has all the ingredients needed to become its next cauldron of violence: Porous borders, existence of logistical bases, weak regimes, poor enforcement measures and disenchantment among marginalised Muslims.

“Southeast Asia has been dubbed as the second front for IS,” said Professor Mohd Kamarulnizam Abdullah, who researches on terrorism and religious violence at Universiti Utara Malaysia.

The region already has had a taste of ISIS-style terror in recent years. In 2016, ISIS-linked militants launched a gun and bomb assault in the centre of Jakarta, killing several people.

Last Sunday (Jan 27), a Roman Catholic cathedral on the island of Jolo in southern Philippines was bombed as worshippers gathered for mass. ISIS claimed responsibility for it.

Although Singapore has been fortunate enough not to have experienced any violent attack, it will become increasingly harder to keep the country secure from the threat as the web of terror closes in on the island.

While the Singapore Government has repeatedly stressed that a terror attack here is not a matter of if but when, there remains a sense of complacency among Singaporeans.

A recent report by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) showed that only 20 per cent of Singaporeans felt that the terrorist threat was imminent.

The MHA’s Singapore Terrorism Threat Assessment Report 2019 also said that the Republic’s “most pressing threat” comes from IS.

In 2016, an IS-inspired plot to attack Marina Bay Sands from the Indonesian island of Batam — a 40-minute boat ride from Singapore — was foiled.

Mr Joseph Franco, a research fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), said

Even if you’re strong security-wise but exist in a bad neighbourhood, you can’t help but always look over your shoulders.


The first wave of terrorism crashed into Southeast Asia in 2002, starting with the devastating bombings in Bali that year. It lasted till 2008, according to last year’s Global Terrorism Index, with terrorist groups the Philippines’ Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Indonesia’s Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) — which has ties to Al Qaeda — being responsible for 301 and 274 deaths respectively.

The second wave came in 2016, amid ISIS’ rise. As a result, Southeast Asia saw a 36 per cent increase in deaths due to terrorism from 2016 to 2017.

In 2017, militant and insurgent groups championing separatist causes, which later forged alliances or became affiliated to IS, committed 348 terror acts which resulted in 292 deaths. They came from countries including Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand.

Research fellow Muhd Faizal Abdul Rahman from RSIS’ Centre of Excellence for National Security pointed out that “partnerships” between militant groups are not new.

The 10,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which has been fighting for a Muslim homeland in the largely Catholic Philippines for decades, is warning of the growing strength of Islamic State group-affiliated groups in the region. (Photo: AFP/Ferdinand Cabrera)

They existed back in the days when Al Qaeda was at its zenith, forming ties with JI. The latter group sent its members to Afghanistan to train and gain combat skills under Al Qaeda and learn its doctrine.

Similarly, aligning themselves with ISIS “facilitates the exchange of talent, skills and material resources” with local and regional groups, said Mr Faizal.

Smaller militant or terrorist groups would also attain a higher level of legitimacy and support if they associate themselves with IS’ ideology, which seeks to establish a caliphate through a final battle between good (Muslims) and evil (non-believers).

“It is more important to sustain the will to fight even when the means to fight is suppressed by security forces,” said Mr Faizal.

Counterterrorism analysts also pointed out that by working together, the different groups can eliminate their common enemies — Western forces and governments that they claim to have exploited and marginalised Muslim communities — on multiple fronts.

Such collaboration was exemplified during the Marawi siege in southern Philippines in 2017. Pledging allegiance to IS, a number of militant groups banded together to attack and take control parts of the city, before they were defeated by government forces after months of battle.

Although the militants lost, the siege underscored IS’ reach in the region, said analysts.

The Global Terrorism Index report said that the battle of Marawi was a “defining moment” in Islamist terrorism in the Philippines. Following that, IS’ online propaganda has urged foreign fighters to travel to the Philippines and other Southeast Asian outposts.

Mr Franco said that even after the Marawi siege, there continues to be militant groups — whether aligned to IS or not — operating in the Mindanao region.

“With access to illegal firearms, they continue to pose a threat,” he said.

About 18 years after the Sep 11 attacks in the United States — which were carried out by the Al Qaeda — the terrorism threat has evolved and possibly become more potent, said analysts.

Dr Mohamed Ali, an RSIS expert in religious extremism, pointed out that previously, the definition of a terrorist was clear-cut: He or she had to pledge an oath and be a member of a terrorist group.

Now, however, individuals can just carry out attacks in their homelands without having to go through military training.

“They can be anyone and can strike alone and out of the blue,” he added. “That makes them more dangerous.”
The rising exclusivist sentiment in the region, namely in Indonesia and Malaysia, has also added fuel to fire.

Last December, thousands of Muslim Indonesians took to the streets to commemorate the series of rallies held in 2016 that targeted a former Jakarta governor, who is a Christian.
Jakarta's Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (centre), popularly known as Ahok, was jailed for two years after being found guilty of committing blasphemy. (Photo: AFP/Bay Ismoyo)

Days after, Malaysians rallied in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur to call on the government to preserve Islam as the country’s national religion and protect the rights of the Malays.

Mr Faizal stressed that exclusivism “forms the pathway to terrorism”.

“A person goes through the cognitive process of exclusivism before he is further radicalised into a terrorist. Exclusivism conditions an individual’s mind and values into believing that others are less human, less moral and deserves to be harmed,” he added.

Dr Mohamed Ali warned that the harm caused by exclusivist ideas could be more damaging than the effects of terror attacks. It leads to different racial and religious communities alienating one another and breeding suspicion. The result: A weakening of the country’s unity and social fabric, he added.


Last May, an Indonesian family of six were involved in back-to-back attacks on three churches in the country’s second-largest city of Surabaya.

The incident drove home the point that the terrorism threat in Indonesia had evolved in two areas: The people conducting the attacks and the weapons used.

READ: Why the use of women and children raises the stakes in the fight against terrorism, a commentary

Relatives and friends of Martha Djumani attend her funeral in Surabaya AFP/JUNI KRISWANTO

Indonesian counterterrorism expert Dr Noor Huda Ismail noted that terrorist operations have morphed from group operations to lone wolves, and later involving women as well as the entire family unit.

It is part of the IS doctrine to involve the entire family as part of efforts to establish a caliphate, he pointed out. In its propaganda magazines Rumiyah and Dabiq, it has been stated that the role of women is to breed the next generation of terrorists.

Another reason why terror attacks now involve women and the entire family is because Indonesian authorities have successfully destroyed many terrorist networks in the country.

“So, IS supporters have to change their tactics,” added Dr Noor Huda, who founded the Institute for International Peace Building to rehabilitate and reintegrate former terrorists into the society.

Using household items as weapons to inflict damage is also the new norm. No longer is it necessary to make or smuggle in traditional bombs or firearms to carry out an attack, said Dr Najib Azca, the director of the Centre for Security and Peace Studies at Indonesia’s Gadjah Mada University.

IS has indoctrinated its followers to believe that if they cannot join its fight in Syria and Iraq, they can carry out attacks in their homelands as part of the jihad (armed struggle), he said.

To do that, they can use vehicles to ram into crowds, or simply use household items like a kitchen knife to stab as many people as they can, said Dr Najib.

He cited the case of an Indonesian woman Dian Yulia Novi, who planned to use a pressure-cooker bomb to attack the Presidential Palace in 2016, but was arrested before she could do so.

“Those (household items) are also equally effective in killing people,” he added.
Indonesian K9 police examine a site following attacks outside the Surabaya Centre Pentecostal Church (Surabaya Gereja Pantekosta Pusat) in Surabaya, East Java. (Photo: AFP/JUNI KRISWANTO)

In Indonesia, the authorities also have to deal with another conundrum: Radicalisation taking place behind bars, partly due to the lack of capacity in the prisons.

The country’s 477 prisons are meant to house 125,000 inmates, but have ended up being crammed with more than 254,000 prisoners.

This has resulted in arrested jihadists being placed in the same cells as offenders of other crimes. “That’s where they influence the others,” said Dr Noor Huda.

In some parts of the country such as Solo, he noted that jihadists sit at the top of the moral hierarchy in prisons as they are regarded as “pure and enlightened”.

“So, what happens is that other prisoners will go to them for Islamic teaching, and they too get radicalised. For the jihadists conducting the teachings, they become more hardcore.”

The Indonesian authorities also have to grapple with the return of citizens who had taken part in foreign wars.

A study by the US-based non-profit organisation Soufan Center and the Global Strategy Network released last year tracked 5,600 fighters who had returned to their home countries. Among them were 50 Indonesians.

Dr Noor Huda said that in areas such as the Indonesian city of Medan, the returning fighters would be welcomed as “mujahideen”, a title given to those who had engaged in jihad. They could then pass on their experience and the teaching they had received.

The release of extremists from prisons and back into society poses yet another threat.

Last week, the government of President Joko Widodo faced a backlash after it announced that the JI’s spiritual leader and mastermind of the Bali bombings, Abu Bakar Bashir, would be released early from prison on medical grounds. The Indonesian government later said it will review the issue.

There were concerns over the move as the 80-year-old ailing cleric is still regarded as influential, and could continue to inspire others to wage jihad.

READ: Don't win the battle against terrorism but lose the war on radicalisation, a commentary

Dr Najib said the announcement of Abu Bakar’s release comes at a politically sensitive time, as the Muslim-majority nation is preparing to elect its next president in April.

“But it could come at a cost, because those individuals could influence others to be radicalised,” he added.
“For Indonesia, the battle against terrorism is still ongoing and there are always new elements that we have to deal with.”


According to the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, 70 convicted extremists in Indonesia were released between January 2017 and August 2018. More are expected to be freed by the end of this year.

Some came from the neighbouring countries of Indonesia and the Philippines. Others from as far as the Middle East.These foreigners entered Malaysia on work permits, and were later employed as labourers or construction workers.

While many were in Malaysia to earn an honest living, some others had nefarious intentions.

According to Malaysia’s authorities, 445 terror suspects had been arrested since 2013 and more than 120 of them — or over a quarter — were foreigners, some of whom were directly involved in a number of plots planned by extremists groups.

Since 2013, the authorities have thwarted 23 planned attacks, including a plot to launch an assault at the closing ceremony of the Southeast Asian Games held in Kuala Lumpur in 2017.

However, in July 2016, Malaysia experienced its first successful IS attack after a grenade blast wounded eight people at a nightclub in Selangor.

Prof Kamarulnizam of Universiti Utara Malaysia attributes the influx of such extremists to the country to the region’s porous borders as well as Malaysia’s openness in welcoming Muslims from other countries.

“It is easy to slip in and slip out. You can go to the Philippines through Sabah, for example,” he added.

Extremists who come to Malaysia, they either stay here to plot attacks in the country, or they use Malaysia as a launching pad to other South-east Asian countries to carry out attacks.

Ahmad El-Muhammady, a counterterrorism analyst at the International Islamic University Malaysia, said the country has seen fewer arrests since the peak of 2013 to 2016. This, however, does not mean the “end of terrorism”, he cautioned.

“This is just a hibernation period,” said Mr El-Muhammady. “On the surface, it looks safe, but beneath it, extremists are secretly making plans and radicalising others.”

Even though the authorities have managed to crack down on terrorist networks such as JI, Al Qaeda or IS, analysts said they still pose a significant threat: Their ideologies are still floating around — whether online or offline — and are deeply entrenched in the minds of supporters and sympathisers.

“Total eradication of ideology is almost impossible. It can be tamed and ‘domesticated’, but not total eradication,” stressed Mr El-Muhammady.

Prof Kamarulnizam said that another worry is the return of Malaysians who had fought overseas. The study by Soufan Center and the Global Strategy Network estimated there were eight such fighters who had returned to Malaysia.

Ironically, the authorities had received personal requests from Malaysians who had fought in Syria, asking to be brought home, said Prof Kamarulnizam. They had burnt their passports after pledging allegiance to IS.
“Of course we cannot entertain them. The risk is too huge,” he added.

The situation in Malaysia, however, is not as bad as in Indonesia, said analysts. For instance, there has yet to be an entire family unit radicalised and plotting terror attacks, though Prof Kamarulnizam pointed out that there was a case of a family who had sold their land and used the money to travel to Syria.

Another issue of concern for Malaysia is “political radicalisation”, said analysts.

Mr El-Muhammady said it involves spreading exclusivist views where Muslims are told they cannot celebrate the festivals of other faiths and that they should not accept non-believers.

“It is a perfect ingredient for individuals to be led down the path of terrorism, when political radicalisation and terrorist radicalisation are merged together,” he added.

Abu Bakar Bashir is visited by Yusril Ihza Mahendra at Gunung Sindur prison in Bogor. (File photo: Reuters)


Like many other countries, Singapore faces the risk of home-grown, self-radicalised “lone actors”, the authorities have said.

Since 2015, a total of 22 radicalised Singaporeans have been dealt with under the Internal Security Act — double the number between 2007 and 2014, according to the Singapore Terrorism Threat Assessment Report 2019

Singapore is also not immune to having radicalised foreigners on its home turf. Since 2015, 14 radicalised Indonesian domestic workers have been repatriated after they were found to have been radicalised.

Last year, three Malaysian work-permit holders were arrested for their suspected involvement in terrorism-related activities. Two were allegedly involved in a Johor-based group linked to S which was plotting attacks in Malaysia.

Dr Noor Huda said that domestic helpers working abroad are susceptible to radicalisation. They are alone in a foreign land with no friends and families. Muslim domestic helpers, in some instances, might also find it hard to reconcile working for non-Muslim employers.

One tactic employed by IS militants is to forge “romantic relationships” with the domestic helpers. Using various online platforms, they would target those searching for love.

Once romance is in the air, the radicalisation process begins. “Furthermore in Indonesia, marrying a religious man is seen as a step up,” said Dr Noor Huda, who recently organised a seminar on the issue for Indonesian domestic workers at the Indonesian Embassy.

Analysts said that Singaporeans’ attitudes towards terror-related issues are a source of concern.

“There’s still that thinking that terrorism is a Middle East problem. It will never happen here,” said Associate Professor Bilveer Singh of the National University of Singapore.

According to the MHA threat assessment report, a survey last year showed that 97 per cent of the respondents agreed that all Singaporeans have a role to play in preventing and dealing with a terror attack.

In addition, 60 per cent of the respondents recognised that Singapore is a target for terror attacks.
But there was also this finding: Only around 20 per cent felt that the threat is imminent, that an attack might occur in Singapore within the next five years.

Mr Faizal, the RSIS research fellow, said that “some complacency” still exists as “some Singaporeans may take our long period of peace for granted”.

He added: “But at the same time, it may also reflect that Singaporeans have a high level of confidence in our security agencies.”

READ: The secret group dynamics that fuel horrifying terror attacks, a commentary

MHA’s Senior Parliamentary Secretary Sun Xueling said that such a perception is “not completely unexpected”.

In an email response to queries, she noted: “Our security agencies have worked hard to keep the terror threat at bay, but therein lies the challenge of how to keep complacency at bay.”

As such, the Government is boosting its SGSecure efforts, a nationwide movement launched in 2016 to sensitise, train and mobile the society to prevent and deal with a terror attack, said Ms Sun.

Recently, she announced new initiatives under SGSecure, which include organising roadshows in suburban malls.

Ms Sun said ramping up SGSecure will “sustain the awareness amongst Singaporeans of the terror threat, and give more people the opportunity to pick up emergency preparedness skills”.

Asked whether SGSecure focuses more on preparing Singaporeans, and not so much on informing them of the different types of terrorism threats, she said that “being aware is an important first step, but it is not enough”.
SGSecure aims to prepare the community to collectively and effectively respond to such threats, and to an attack when it takes place, Ms Sun added.

In building an informed citizenry, Assoc Prof Singh noted that the Government could end up seen as being “too paranoid” if it puts out too much information.

Mr Faizal said that the authorities, in any case, should devise new ways to make the information attractive and easily digestible. They could do this based on current patterns of information consumption and themes that are currently popular.

He added: “We need different methods of communication to inform people of different ages, social groups and backgrounds.”

Five Abu Sayyaf members surrender over Philippine church bombing

From Reuters (Feb 3, 2019): Five Abu Sayyaf members surrender over Philippine church bombing

A senior Abu Sayyaf operative and four members of the militant group believed to be behind the deadly bombing of a church in the southern Philippines surrendered to authorities over the weekend, the national police chief said on Monday.

A Philippine Army member inspects the damage inside a church after a bombing attack in Jolo, Sulu province, Philippines January 27, 2019. Armed Forces Of The Philippines - Western Mindanao Command/Handout via REUTERS
Kammah Pae, whom authorities believe to have aided an Indonesian couple in the Jan 27 suicide attack, gave himself up to government troops, Oscar Albayalde said.

“He was forced to surrender,” Albayalde told a media briefing. “He probably didn’t want to die during the military offensive.”

Philippine troops killed three suspected Abu Sayyaf militants and suffered five fatalities in a firefight on Saturday in Patikul, a town in the province of Sulu as troops pursued those behind the church attack.

Albayalde said Kammah denied involvement in the twin bombings at the Jolo cathedral that killed 23 people, including civilians and soldiers, but eyewitnesses’ accounts showed he escorted the Indonesian couple.

Security forces also retrieved an improvised explosive device (IED) and components from his home, Albayalde added.

The five suspects will face multiple murder charges, among others, Albayalde said.

However, the investigation into the church bombing in Sulu, a known stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf group, is “far from over,” he added.

Abu Sayyaf is a militant organization notorious for kidnappings and extremist factions and has pledged allegiance to Islamic State.

“There are more pieces of evidence that need to carefully examined,” Albayalde said.

Before Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte suggested on Tuesday that the twin explosions may have been a suicide attack, military and police said the bombs within and outside the church appeared to have been detonated remotely.

A few days later, Duterte’s interior minister, Eduardo Ano, said that suicide attack was carried out by an Indonesian couple with the help of Abu Sayyaf.

That would be in line with a claim of responsibility by Islamic State via its Amaq news agency early on Monday.

Lorenzana: US troops aiding PHL Army in fight vs. terrorism in Mindanao

From GMA News (Feb 4, 2019): Lorenzana: US troops aiding PHL Army in fight vs. terrorism in Mindanao

US troops have been providing assistance to the Philippine Army in its operations against terror attacks in Mindanao, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Monday.

"We got assistance from the Americans," Lorenzana said during a forum in Camp Aguinaldo.

This included US assets helping to fly wounded Filipino soldiers to Zamboanga City as the operation against the Abu Sayyaf Group in Patikul, Sulu continues.

"They helped us immediately...they were first to rescue our assets also, to bring [our] wounded to Zamboanga," Lorenzana said.

Aside from giving assistance to the wounded soldiers, the US has also helped by relaying intelligence reports on possible terror threats to its Philippine counterpart.

"They have been helping us track these terrorists even before the bombing [in Jolo]," Lorenzana said.

Singapore and Indonesia also warned the Philippine government about possible terror attacks prior to the Jolo blasts, he said.

DND chief mulls recommending lifting of ML in Mindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 4, 2019): DND chief mulls recommending lifting of ML in Mindanao


If legislators can pass an Anti-Terrorism Act within the first half of the year, Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Monday said he will recommend the lifting of martial law in Mindanao by July 1.

He made the statement during the National Defense College of the Philippines Alumni forum, titled "The National Security Outlook for the Philippines in 2019", which was held at Honor Hall, NDCP Compound, Camp Aguinaldo, in Quezon City.

Lorenzana said such law, if enacted, will no longer necessitates the proclamation of martial law and the suspension of habeas corpus.

Existing laws against terrorism have no teeth, which necessitates the creation of such measure, he added.

"This is the main argument that we presented to the Senate when we were there to defend martial law. I told them if they can pass it within the (first) half of this year, then I can recommend the cessation of martial law," Lorenzana said.

Meanwhile, Lorenzana said the extension of martial law in Mindanao will help the government address violent extremism and terrorism.

He said martial law allows law enforcement agencies, local officials and the military to coordinate, collaborate and communicate efficiently and effectively.

"It ensures that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) can provide an environment conducive to rehabilitation and development," Lorenzana noted.

Congress, in joint session December 12, approved the extension of martial law in Mindanao until Dec. 31, 2019.

Convening in a joint session early December, the Senate and the House of Representatives granted the Chief Executive's request for the extension of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus for a period of one year from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2018.

Ex-NPA leader, brother slain in Sarangani ambush

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 4, 2019): Ex-NPA leader, brother slain in Sarangani ambush

A former unit leader of the New People's Army (NPA) and his younger brother were killed while another sibling was wounded in an ambush by suspected rebels on Sunday in Alabel town, Sarangani province.
Chief Insp. Rey Salgado, chief of the Alabel municipal police station, said Monday brothers Rodel, Welmar and Adonis Niepes were on their way home aboard a motorcycle around 12:30 p.m. when they were waylaid by alleged NPA members
in Barangay Paraiso.

Salgado said Rodel and Welmar, who was a Grade 11 senior high school student, suffered multiple gunshot wounds and were declared dead upon arrival at a local hospital.

Adonis was wounded in the attack and is currently undergoing treatment.

Citing accounts from witnesses, the police official said at least 10 heavily-armed men opened fire at the victims as they were traversing a road in Sitio Nayong, Barangay Paraiso.

"According to reports, the armed men were alleged members of the NPA," he said.

Police officers of the Alabel municipal police station and the Army's 73rd Infantry Battalion found assorted cartridges of high-powered firearms at the scene.

A relative of the victims', whose identity was being withheld, said in a radio interview that the three came from their coconut farm when attacked.

Sources said Rodel, also known as "Kumander Dong," was a former unit leader of the NPA's Front 71, which operates in Sarangani and Davao Occidental provinces.

Rodel and brother Adonis surrendered voluntarily last year and availed of the government's reintegration program.

Army opens recruitment for 200 candidate soldiers

From the Sun Star-Tacloban (Feb 3, 2019): Army opens recruitment for 200 candidate soldiers

THE Philippine Army in Eastern Visayas has stepped up its recruitment and selection for 200 candidate soldier regular quota for 2019.

The Army’s 8th Infantry Division based in Catbalogan City, Samar has directed all its Infantry Brigades and Battalions to conduct registration to all interested candidate soldier applicants in their areas following the basic qualifications for selection.
Interested applicants must bring along with them the original copy of their birth certificate from Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) with official receipt, Form 137 or transcript of records, diploma (High School or College), one 2x2 picture with nametag, and valid identification cards.

“Applicants must be 18-26 years of age; single never been married; never borne nor sired a child; emotionally, physically and mentally fit; at least five feet in height (male and female); with no pending case in court,” the Army said in a statement.

Also, applicants “have passed the AFP Service Aptitude Test (AFPSAT); with a strong desire to serve the country; and have all the needed documents for processing.”

Aside from the AFPSAT rating, the requirements during the selection process include individual scores in the Physical Fitness Test as well as individual interview by a board, it added.

Qualified applicants will undergo background investigations and medical examination prior to their appointment as candidate soldiers.

They will also undergo the six-month candidate soldier course as a requisite for enlistment in the Philippine Army.

New army unit to address security concerns in Sulu

From the Sun Star-Davao (Feb 1, 2019): New army unit to address security concerns in Sulu

TO ADDRESS security concerns in Sulu, a top official of the Philippine Army said the 11th Infantry "Alakdan" Division has been formed.

The new unit of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will be strengthened through deployment of additional AFP personnel to eliminate the presence of terrorist groups in the area.

Lieutenant General Alberto Macairog, commanding general of the Philippine Army (CGPA), said that this newly-activated unit of the AFP is envisioned to pave the way for peace in Sulu since additional forces will be sent there to fight against terrorist groups.

“Pinapalakas natin ‘yon para magkaroon ng stability at peace ang Sulu. That’s why ‘yong utos ng Presidente na buuin ang 11th Infantry Division. Ang intention doon ay patahimikin, maging maayos at maunlad ang Sulu,” Macairog said.

On Monday, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the military in Sulu to wage an all-out war against Abu Sayyaf Group who was pointed to be behind the recent bombings in the southern part of the country.

Earlier, two explosions at a Catholic church in Jolo left 21 dead and more than 80 wounded.

Alberto said that they already identified the Abu Sayyaf group as behind the terror attack as this group also pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS). But as to the details, he refused to spill it as their investigation is still ongoing.

In Zamboanga grenade explosion, the AFP is still determining the group behind the incident which happened at the mosque at Sitio Logoy Diutay, Barangay Talon-talon.

However, the AFP is not discounting the possibility that the ASG is still behind the deadly grenade attack to spur religious tension between the Christians and Muslims.

“Mukhang ang nangyari sa Zamboanga, gusto nilang guluhin ang lugar kaya silang grupo na yon ang gumawa,” Macairog added.

Troops destroy BIFF lair in Maguindanao

From the Sun Star-Zamboanga (Feb 3, 2019): Troops destroy BIFF lair in Maguindanao

EIGHT Daesh-inspired Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) were killed while 10 others were reported wounded when government forces have destroyed a BIFF lair in Maguindanao, the military reported on Sunday, February 3.

Colonel Gerry Besana, Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) information officer, said the destroyed BIFF lair was
located at Sitio Tatak in the village of Tugal, Sultan Sa Barongis, Maguindanao.

Besana said the BIFF lair was destroyed when the Joint Task Force Central (JTFC) launched surgical air, artillery and ground operations starting 6 a.m. Saturday after they identified and confirmed targets against the DAESH inspired terrorist group under Salahudin Hassan.

Besana said the destroyed BIFF lair has 20 bunkers and foxholes.

Five of the eight slain BIFF followers were identified only as the following: a certain Hashim; Abo Salik; Abo Tutin; Saidin Kusain; and, Guabar Sulaiman.

Besana said that 10 others were wounded, including Hassan, based on “human intelligence” report.

Major General Cirilito Sobejana, JTFC commander, said the successful operation is a result of positive information and support provided by the former members of BIFF who surrendered to his command.

“We ease the fear of our people and assure them that safety procedures were undertaken and deliberately planned by JTFC giving due concern to the safety of the civilian populace,” Sobejana said.

“Appropriate coordination was also made with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front-Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities and the targeted areas were confined to locations far from the local communities,” Sobejana said.

“I am very determined to defeat these threat groups and prevent them from doing terroristic activities to bring about peace in Central Mindanao,” he added.

NDF/Sison: We cannot expect the traitor Duterte to stand up for territorial integrity and sovereign rights

Jose Maria Sison propaganda statement posted to the National Democratic Front Philippines (NDFP or NDF) Website (Feb 1, 2019): We cannot expect the traitor Duterte to stand up for territorial integrity and sovereign rights

Comment by Jose Maria Sison
NDFP Chief Political Consultant
February 1, 2019

This photo taken on April 2, 2015 by satellite imagery provider DigitalGlobe and released by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative department at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSSI) think-tank shows a satellite image of an under-construction airstrip at Fiery Cross Reef (Kagitingan Reef) in the Spratly Islands in the disputed West Philippine Sea. AFP photo / CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative / Digitalglobe

We cannot expect the traitor Duterte to heed the call of Justice Carpio to stand up for the territorial integrity and sovereign rights of the Philipines and the Filipino people in connection with the Chinese occupation and construction on the Kagitingan Reef (Fiery Cross).

In his electoral campaign for the presidency in 2016, he was financed by the China lobby and the plunderers like the Marcoses, Arroyos, Estradas, Remullas and Enriles. The armed minions of Duterte are complicit with him in treason.

Aside from being a traitor, he is bound to bigger plunder in connection with Chinese loans and infrastructure projects and to use state terrorism to assure him of absolute power and limitless accumulation of ill-gotten wealth.

Everyday that Duterte is in power, he victimizes the people with his treason, plunder and the most violent human rights violations. At the rate he is making the people suffer his tyranny and the worsening socio-economic crisis, he should not be allowed to stay long in power.