ISIS fighters might declare new caliphate in Philippines, experts warn

Battle of MarawiThe number of foreign Islamic State fighters entering the Philippines is growing, and the momentum they generate among local Islamist groups may prompt them to declare a new caliphate, according to experts. British newspaper The Guardian cited “a high-ranking intelligence officer” who said that between 40 and 100 foreign fighters have joined the Islamic State in the southern Philippines in the past 12 months. Most of them come from neighboring countries, such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. But there are also fighters from Pakistan, Bangladesh and several Middle Eastern countries, said the intelligence officer. One of them, a Moroccan militant, carried out a suicide bombing in Lamitan City, located on Basilan Island south of Mindanao, in July of this year, killing 11 other people. There are fears among experts that the Islamic State might declare a new caliphate there soon, as local support for militant Islamism is growing.

Such a declaration has been made before. Following the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, later renamed Islamic State) in 2014 in the Middle East, several Islamist groups in the Philippines declared allegiance to the Islamic State’s emir, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. They included fighters from Abu Sayyaf, Ansar al-Khilafah, the Maute Group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and other smaller factions active in the southern Philippines’ island of Mindanao. In May 2017, these fighters launched a joint attack on Marawi, the capital city of Mindanao’s Lanao del Sur province. Within 48 hours, they had occupied the entire city of 200,000 people and declared it the capital of the “East Asia Wilayah”, an overseas province of the Islamic State. Among them were an estimated 80 foreign fighters from dozens of countries. Upon the declaration of the caliphate, the insurgents issued several calls on social media for foreign Islamists to join them. Many dozens from the Muslim world and from Western Europe attempted to do so, according to Philippines police.

The violent takeover of Marawi prompted a counter-attack by the Philippine Armed Forces, which launched a large-scale urban-warfare operation on May 23, 2017. Hostilities ended on October 17, 2017, when the Philippine government declared victory against the Islamic State. The military operation became known as “the battle of Marawi” and is believed to have been the longest urban battle in the post-World War II history of the Philippines. More than 1,200 people died in the five-month battle, most of them civilians. Hundreds of thousands remain displaced to this day as a result of the fighting.

According to The Guardian, intelligence gathered from local and foreign Islamist fighters in the country suggests that support for the Islamic State among local Muslims is growing, as a result of three factors: first, the arrival of dozens of battle-hardened foreign fighters who urge the locals to fight. Second, the disaffection of the local Muslim population as a result of the harsh economic conditions in the Philippines’ depressed southern regions. Third, widespread dissatisfaction with the increasing levels of corruption among government officials in the southern provinces. One expert, Zachary Abuza, south-east Asia analyst at the United States National War College, told The Guardian that southern Philippines is an important sanctuary for the Islamic State, because “there is enough ungoverned or very poorly governed space” there. In the next few months, another declaration of a caliphate may be issued, he added.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 14 November 2018 | Permalink

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US reportedly considering airstrikes against pro-ISIS groups in the Philippines

The United States is reportedly weighing plans to launch airstrikes in the Philippines, against militant groups that are affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. However, some American officials are skeptical about reports of possible airstrikes, while Philippine government officials claim no such action is necessary. For more than 40 years, the Philippine army has been fighting a counterinsurgency campaign against secessionist Moros in the country’s southwest. The region is home to most of the Philippines’ Muslim population, which constitutes around 6 percent of the country’s overall population. In recent years, some Muslim secessionist groups, including the most formidable, Abu Sayyaf, have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, known as ISIS.

For about 15 years, a small contingent of US troops has assisted the Philippine military in its war against Muslim militants. Known as Joint Special Operations Task Force Trident, the small group of US soldiers performs a low-key advisory role in the Philippine military’s counterinsurgency campaign. The American military presence in the Philippines is not a ‘named operation’, which means that its funding from the Pentagon is relatively small and its range of activities remains limited. But this week’s visit to Manila by the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson prompted rumors that Washington may be considering naming the Task Force Trident operation, and possibly increasing the scope of its activities to include airstrikes against Abu Sayyaf. The American news network NBC said on Tuesday that the US is considering launching an offensive air campaign against ISIS, “as part of [a new] collective self-defense” treaty with Manila. Citing two unnamed US defense officials, NBC said that the air campaign could be officially announced as early as this week.

But the network also said that another US official cautioned that a new collective self-defense agreement between the US the Philippines would not necessarily have to include provisions for an offensive air campaign. Typically, self-defense agreements between Washington and allied countries that are not members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization are “more about intelligence sharing than offensive US strikes”, said the official. Meanwhile, Philippine government officials denied on Tuesday that Manila had requested air support from Washington in its war against Abu Sayyaf. The island country’s Secretary of Defense, Delfin Lorenzana, told reporters that “there was no need” for US airstrikes in the Philippines. The US Pentagon did not comment on the NBC report.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 August 2017 | Permalink

US Looks Away from Worsening Philippines Rights Record

Lumbera

Lumbera

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS and IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Just days after Filipino prizewinning poet and dramatist Bienvenido Lumbera caught a Naval Intelligence Security Force agent spying on him outside his home, another Filipino intellectual has come forward with allegations of government spying. Pedro “Jun” Cruz Reyes, professor of creative writing at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, said he has been the subject of surveillance investigations by government agents since 2006. Such incidents are not a new phenomenon in the Philippines. In 2005, the US State Department noted in its annual human rights report that the Philippines National Police was the country’s “worst abuser of human rights” and that government security elements often “sanction extrajudicial killings and vigilantism”. However, the report adds that these practices are utilized “as expedient means of fighting crime and terrorism”, which may explain why no discernable action has been taken by US authorities to prevent them. In an article published today in The Foreign Policy Journal we examine the recent record of US-Philippine relations. Continue reading at The Foreign Policy Journal

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News you may have missed #0112

  • Obama refuses to halt CIA probe. Arguing that “nobody’s above the law”, the US President has rejected a request by seven former heads of the CIA to end the inquiry into abuse of suspects held by the Agency.
  • Naval intel agent caught spying on famous Philippine artist. Philippine prizewinning poet, critic and dramatist Bienvenido Lumbera says he will file a complaint against the Philippines armed forces over the apprehension of a Naval Intelligence Security Force agent, who was caught spying outside his home. The country’s government is supposedly concentrating (with US logistical, intelligence and combat assistance) on fighting the Muslim separatist Moro ethnic group (including the Abu Sayyaf Group) in the south, but it is apparently spying on artists and intellectuals on the side.

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Analysis: Ulterior Motives In Panetta’s Philippines Visit

Panetta & Arroyo

Panetta, Arroyo

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
Few heads outside Southeast Asia were turned last Sunday by CIA director Leon Panetta’s brief visit to the Philippines. Panetta arrived in Manila early Sunday morning and left at 10 p.m. on the same day. But he managed to squeeze in meetings with Philippines President Gloria Arroyo, as well as her most senior cabinet executives, such as Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo and Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr. Panetta’s meeting with the President was brief, reportedly lasting around 30 minutes, but its significance was enormous for Washington’s continuing military and intelligence presence in the region. To understand the level of that commitment, one must consider the rare telephone call that US President Barack Obama recently placed to his Philippine counterpart. Read article →

Analysis: Strange Case of Philippine Spy in US Gets Stranger

Aquino

Aquino

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A Philippine former intelligence officer, who was arrested in New York for passing classified US documents to his Philippine contacts, has had his sentence reduced by a US court. Michael Ray Aquino was apprehended in 2005 and charged with collaborating with an FBI intelligence analyst who spied on the US. Aquino’s recent history is complicated. For several years, he worked for the (now defunct) Philippines National Police Intelligence Group (NPIG), where he quickly rose to the post of Deputy Director, under the Presidency of Joseph Estrada. In 2001, however, when Estrada was ousted from the Presidency amidst extensive corruption allegations, Aquino was one of several military and intelligence officials who were removed by the new government of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Soon afterwards, Aquino was among several suspects charged with the politically motivated murder of Salvador “Bubby” Dacer, a well-known public relations manager who had helped oust Estrada. The ousted intelligence officer escaped justice by fleeing with his family to the US, in 2001. Read article →