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Islamic State finds safe haven in the Philippines

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Mindanao : Despite Islamic State’s failure last year to establish a caliphate in the southern Philippine city of Marawi, foreign militants continue to flock to the island of Mindanao, waiting in the wings to strike anew.

Security analysts and military officials say at least 100 foreign terrorist fighters are now holed up with a range of local armed groups that have pledged their allegiance to Islamic State.

Filipino troops needed five months to flush out Islamic State-allied Maute and Abu Sayyaf fighters from their positions in Marawi, which one year later has yet to rise from the ashes of the urban war that left its core in ruins.

 

Rommel Banlaoi, chair of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, claims in an interview with Asia Times that Islamic State foreign fighters are now streaming into Mindanao and that the situation is “getting worse.”

His claim is based on information he collected over several months from state security agencies. “The entry of FTFs (foreign terrorist fighters) to the Philippines continues despite the liberation of Marawi,” Banlaoi told the Asia Times on October 30.

He also says that at least 60 have been identified by state agents through their aliases, while nearly 30 others are unidentified.

The figure is significantly higher than the 48 foreign fighters that the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ intelligence unit said were operating in Mindanao as of January 2018.

A repeat of last year’s months-long siege would be disastrous for the Philippines and the wider region. The urban war left some 1,100 individuals dead, mostly Islamist gunmen, including 32 foreign fighters, according to the Philippine military.

Over 350,000 civilians were displaced by the war that began on May 23 last year, prompting President Rodrigo Duterte to place all of Mindanao under rights-curbing martial law. The order will remain in effect until the end of this year.

Duterte, the country’s first president from Mindanao who claims to have meranaw (Marawi residents refer to themselves as such) roots, declared the liberation of Marawi on October 17, 2017.

More than one year on, though, some 70,000 civilians have yet to return to Marawi’s 250-hectare ground zero, a restriction that has fed local anger and resentment in evacuation centers that have emerged as militant recruitment grounds.

Foreign Islamic State fighters often pose as tourists, students overstaying their visas, foreign workers or economic migrants, and at least 10 of them have been arrested since the start of this year, Banlaoi said.

Foreign Islamic State fighters have recently arrived in Mindanao from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Morocco, Spain, France, Tunisia, Iraq,

Somali, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Pakistan, Bangladesh and China, he says, based on government monitoring of the movements.

Most are coming from neighboring Indonesia and Malaysia, using Mindanao’s maritime backdoor through the seas of Sulu and Celebes, known as the Sulawesi Sea in Indonesia.

The Malaysian terror suspects usually enter the southern Philippines through the province of Tawi-Tawi from the Malaysian state of Sabah on Borneo Island, while the Indonesians tend to come through the provinces of Davao Occidental and Sarangani from North Sulawesi.

The three neighboring nations share broad maritime borders in what is considered the second busiest shipping trade route in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

“The FTFs regard Mindanao as the new land of jihad, safe haven and alternative home base,” Banlaoi said. “They join local groups to wage jihad in the Philippines on behalf of the Islamic State.”

The foreign Islamic State fighters are luring local militants with the promise of an East Asian Wilaya, or Islamic province, after the failure to establish one in Mindanao after their defeat in Marawi, Banlaoi said.

Lieutenant Colonel Gerry Besana, spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Western Mindanao Command, said Islamic State continues to inspire local Muslim armed groups despite their military defeat last year at Marawi.

He also said that foreigners who pledge allegiance to the Islamic State continue to join local Islamic militant groups, confirming Banlaoi’s assessment.

“Some of these foreign terrorists are coming in through our porous borders,” Besana said, referring to the Sulu and Sulawesi seas that the Philippines shares with Malaysia and Indonesia.

The military official said the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia have intensified joint navy patrols in border waters in a multilateral cooperation to fight terror threats.

While acknowledging that security forces alone can not detect foreign terrorist fighters because of the nation’s long coastlines and rugged jungles in Mindanao, the official called on the public to report suspicious foreigners to authorities for verification of their identities.

Local militant groups have instead provided sanctuary to foreign terrorists in the past. That includes well-known Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” a bomb-making expert who was killed in Maguindanao province’s Mamasapano town in January 2015.

Marwan was given safe haven by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a Islamic militant group which has recently declared its allegiance to Islamic State and is accused of orchestrating recent bombings in the region.

Besana said foreign terrorist fighters are arriving in Mindanao because of Islamic State’s “waning influence in the Middle East and in other parts of the world.”

Preventing foreign terrorist fighters from entering the country is difficult for the military and other law enforcement agencies because they often disguise their identities. And while Islamic State aligned groups were defeated at Marawi, it’s not clear where or how they intend to strike next, Besana says.


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Pakistan among the few countries to successfully turn tide against terrorism: Imran

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Islamabad: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said that the country condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, including state-terrorism against people under illegal occupation. The PM stated that Pakistan is “among the few countries to have successfully turned the tide against terrorism”.

Addressing the 19th Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit at Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, Khan reiterated that Pakistan is ready to share its experience and expertise in counter-terrorism. He added that growing intolerance and Islamophobia are threatening to accentuate religious fault-lines. He further said that Pakistan will remain actively engaged in SCO’s counter-terrorism initiatives.

Speaking on Afghanistan, PM Khan said that “the conflict in Afghanistan has no military solution”, adding that Pakistan is fully supporting efforts for “peace and reconciliation, through an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process”.

 

“Excellencies, The world stands at a crossroads. For the first time in ages, we are seeing the advent of a multi-polar global order. Epicentres of economic power and growth momentum are shifting eastwards. Regional integration is speeding up. Disruptive technologies are maturing. Threats from terrorism to climate change to narcotics to bacterial resistance continue to loom large,” said PM Khan.

“There are increasing barriers to open trade and innovation. Meanwhile, growing intolerance and Islamophobia are threatening to accentuate religious fault-lines. For its part, Pakistan condemns terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, including State-terrorism against people under illegal occupation. We are among the few countries to have successfully turned the tide against terrorism,” added the Pakistan PM.

“Pakistan remains ready to share its experience and expertise in counter-terrorism. We will also remain actively engaged in SCO’s counter-terrorism initiatives. Excellencies, There is finally a realization that the conflict in Afghanistan has no military solution. Pakistan is fully supporting efforts for peace and reconciliation, through an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process,” further said Pakistan PM Khan.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had reiterated India’s strong stand against terrorism and appealed that countries supporting, aiding and funding terrorism must be held accountable. PM Modi highlighted the spirit and ideals of SCO to strengthen cooperation in the fight against terrorism even as Khan looked on.

Without naming Pakistan, a country that has made state-sponsored terrorism its biggest policy to counter India for the last several decades, PM Modi said every country needs to come together, unite and fight against the scourge.

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Putin says Russia will fight for the right of Palestinians to their own state

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Moscow: Vladimir Putin has said Russia will fight for an independent Palestinian state, and called for the issues of the Middle East to be resolved through peaceful means.

Despite international criticism over Russia’s own role in the Ukrainian crisis, Mr Putin was hailed last week by a St Petersburg Cossack group for his ability to “bring order and stop wars”.

In an address to the Arab League summit in Egypt on Saturday, Putin spoke against foreign intervention in countries’ internal disputes and spoke of the role Russia can play in diplomatic channels.

 

While Russia openly opposes the stance of US-backed Israel on the Gaza crisis, its position in the Middle East is complicated. Putin is one of Iran’s key allies, but as he spoke on Saturday the core nations of the Arab League engaged in air strikes on the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

His attempts to urge a peaceful solution in Yemen haven’t had much of an immediate impact – on Sunday, the Arab League agreed to the creation of a joint military forces comprised of around 40,000 elite troops to resolve the future “challenges” of the Middle East.

As one of the “Quartet” entities involved in Middle East peace negotiations, Russia has played a key role in talks about the fallout of last year’s Gaza crisis.

He told the summit this weekend: “Palestinians have the right to establish an independent and habitable state with a capital in East Jerusalem.

“Russia will continue to contribute to achieving this goal through bilateral and multilateral channels,” he said.

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Trump claims Queen had fun with him during his UK visit

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Washington: US President Donald Trump claimed that Britains Queen Elizabeth II had more fun during his state visit to the UK than in the last 25 years."I have such a great relationship, and we were laughing and having fun. And her people said she hasnt had so much fun in 25 years. Then I got criticized for it because they said we were having too much fun,” the Hill quoted Trump as saying.

Trump`s comments come two weeks after his first state visit to London to meet the 93-year-old monarch. During his three-day visit, the president dined with the Queen, members of the British royal family and other British politicians at Buckingham Palace.

Trump and the queen reaffirmed the importance of the Washington-London relationship during an elaborate state banquet.”On behalf of all Americans I offer a toast to the eternal friendship of our people, the vitality of our nations and to the long cherished and truly remarkable reign of her majesty, the queen,” Trump said in his toast during the event.

 

He also met Prime Minister Theresa May. Opposing Trumps visit, thousands of people hit the streets. TheTrump Baby` blimp was flown by the demonstrators outside the Houses of Parliament, according to CNN, alongside a 16-foot robot version of Trump sitting on the toilet and tweeting.

Other activists came dressed as gorillas, with signs reading that they “only eat chlorinated chicken” — a nod to concerns in Britain that a post-Brexit trade deal with the US would mean a decline in food standards for imported produce.

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