ISIS militant was first-ever Filipino suicide bomber, say police officials

Jolo PhilippinesAn Islamic State militant who blew himself up in the Philippines last week was probably history’s first-ever Filipino suicide bomber, according to police officials. The man was one of two militants who detonated suicide vests in Indanan, a town in the southern Philippines island of Sulu, on Friday. The twin blasts killed six people, in addition to the two suicide bombers. The target of the attack was a military base that houses the 1st Brigade Combat team of the Philippine Army. The 1,500-strong brigade is leading the counterinsurgency campaign in the country’s heavily Muslim southern regions. Three of the victims were 1st Brigade Combat team soldiers, while three civilians who happened to be walking nearby were also killed.

The Islamic State —known also as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)— claimed responsibility for the attack, leading many to speculate that the suicide bombers were not Filipinos, but other Arab nationals. That would fit the pattern of the two previous suicide bombings that have taken place in the history of the Philippines. In July of 2018, a Moroccan ISIS follower drove a van laden with explosives at an army checkpoint on the island of Basilan, killing ten people. And in January of this year, two Indonesian suicide bombers attacked a Roman Catholic congregation on Jolo Island, killing 23 and injuring over 100 churchgoers. All three suicide bombers were members of Abu Sayyaf, a Filipino Salafi jihadist group that pledged allegiance to ISIS in 2014. Moreover, none of the three suicide bombers were native Filipinos; rather they had traveled to the island country in order to carry out terrorist attacks.

This pattern may have changed as of last Friday, however. According to local military officials, a Filipino woman identified the remains of one of the two suicide bombers as belonging to her son. The woman reportedly told authorities that her son was named Norman Lasuca and was 23 years old. She also said that he, like his father, belonged to the Tausūg, a million-strong predominantly Muslim ethnic group that includes many recent converts to Islam.

On Tuesday, several Philippine Army commanders gave a press conference in Sulu, where they discussed the latest information regarding last week’s suicide attacks. One of the speakers, Brigadier-General Edgard Arevalo, said that the purported mother of the suicide bomber had provided DNA samples to the authorities, in order to help positively identify the body. If the DNA tests are positive “then […] we can say conclusively that the person is Filipino”, which will be a first, said Arevalo. A positive result would suggest that the ideology of ISIS may be more appealing to local Filipino youth than has generally been assumed by counterterrorism officials, Arevalo concluded.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 July 2019 | Permalink

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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

Philippines summons US ambassador to protest negative intelligence report

Sung KimThe United States ambassador to the Philippines has been summoned by Manila in response to the publication of an American intelligence report that described President Rodrigo Duterte as a threat to democracy. The report, published on February 13, represents a joint assessment of worldwide challenges to the interests of the United States. It is compiled annually by all 16 member agencies that make up the US Intelligence Community. This year’s report focused on the administration of President Duterte, who has led a self-styled “war on drugs, corruption and crime” in the Philippines since he assumed office in June 2016.

By the government’s own account, Duterte’s war has left more than 4,000 people dead in the past 18 months. But some human rights groups estimate the number of deaths at 11,000 or even higher. The US intelligence report notes that Duterte declared martial law in the Philippines’ southern region of Mindanao, which is expected to remain in place for most of 2018. It expresses concerns about rumors that the government may continue to impose martial law indefinitely and that it may extend it nationwide. It also expresses concern about Duterte’s prior statements that he intends to turn his government into a “revolutionary regime”.

At a press conference in Manila, President Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque said that the US ambassador to the Philippines capital, Sung Kim, met with Salvador Medialdea on Tuesday. Medialdea is the president’s executive secretary, who is the highest-ranking official in Duterte’s office. According to Roque, Medialdea told the US ambassador that the Philippine embassy in Washington was prepared to “give US intelligence accurate information about the reality” of the political situation in the Philippines. He also informed Ambassador Kim that the Philippines president had respect for the rule of law. A statement issued by the US embassy in Manila said that Ambassador Kim informed Medialdea about “the nature of the […] report, which is based on widely available information”.

The meeting ended with the two officials reaffirming “the strength of the broad and deep bilateral relationship” between Washington and Manila. They also said that the US would continue to cooperate with the Philippines on political, economic and security issues. However, tensions between the two countries have been high all week. On Thursday, President Duterte accused the Central Intelligence Agency of funding Rappler.com, a very popular news and information website based in the Philippines and Indonesia, which he said was engaged in a systematic effort to undermine his administration.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 27 February 2018 | Permalink

US intelligence assessment describes Philippines leader as threat to democracy

Trump and DuterteA wide-ranging assessment by the United States Intelligence Community views the President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, as a major threat to democracy and human rights in Southeast Asia. The report, published on February 13, represents a joint assessment of worldwide challenges to the interests of the United States. It is compiled annually by all 16 member agencies that make up the US Intelligence Community. This year’s report warns that democratic governance and human rights would continue to be “fragile” in 2018, because of the autocratic governing style of several national administrations. Many Southeast Asian governments were also corrupt and displayed nepotistic tendencies, says the report. It singles out the government of Myanmar, which has been widely criticized for its inhuman treatment of the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority. It also mentions the autocratic government of Thailand, which recently changed the country’s constitution, giving increased legislative powers to the country’s armed forces.

But much of the criticism in the report focuses on the administration of President Duterte, who has led a self-styled “war on drugs, corruption and crime” in the Philippines since he assumed office in June 2016. His critics in the Philippines and abroad have voiced strong objections to his aggressive tactics, which, by the government’s own account, have left more than 4,000 people dead in the past 18 months. Some human rights groups estimate the number of deaths at 11,000 or even higher. The US intelligence report notes that Duterte declared martial law in the Philippines’ southern region of Mindanao, which is expected to remain in place for most of 2018. It expresses concerns about rumors that the government may continue to impose martial law indefinitely and that it may extend it nationwide. It also expresses concern about Duterte’s prior statements that he intends to turn his government into a “revolutionary regime”.

On Tuesday, opposition lawmakers in the Philippines expressed concern about the US intelligence report and advised the Duterte administration to take its contents into consideration. But government representatives in Manila dismissed the US assessment as “myopic” and “speculative at best”. They insisted that the Philippines president “adheres to the rule of law” and would “remain loyal to the constitution” of the country. In November of last year, US President Donald Trump met Duterte during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Danang, Vietnam. Earlier in the year, the two men spoke on the phone. During that conversation, the American leader reportedly praised his Philippine counterpart for doing an “unbelievable job” in combating the drug trade in his country. Duterte is expected to visit the White House later this year.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 22 February 2018 | Permalink

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

News you may have missed #675

Eugene ForseyBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►US ‘has engaged in cyberwarfare’. Former National Security Agency Director Mike McConnell said in an interview with Reuters that the United States has already used cyber attacks against an adversary. Most believe he was referring to Stuxnet, the computer virus unleashed against Iran in 2010.
►►Philippines studying US offer to deploy spy planes. The Philippines is considering a US proposal to deploy surveillance aircraft on a temporary, rotating basis to enhance its ability to guard disputed areas in the South China Sea, the Philippine defense minister said last week. The effort to expand military ties between the United States and the Philippines, which voted to remove huge American naval and air bases 20 years ago, occurs as both countries grapple with the growing assertiveness of China.
►►Canadian intelligence spied on constitutional expert. Canadian security forces kept close tabs on renowned constitutional scholar Eugene Forsey from his early days as a left-wing academic to his stint as a senator, according to newly declassified documents. The collection of more than 400 pages, which has been obtained by Canadian newspaper The Toronto Star, reveals the RCMP Security Service (the predecessor to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service), followed Forsey for four decades throughout his career as an economics professor, research director for the Canadian Congress of Labour (now called the Canadian Labour Congress), a two-time Ottawa-area candidate for the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation and then his 1970 appointment as a Liberal senator. No surprises here.

News you may have missed #528