Troops recover bodies of 22 ‘militants’ in Marawi

Black smoke comes from a burning building in a commercial area of Osmena street in Marawi city, Philippines, in this file photo. The Philippine military on Wednesday said troops have recovered 22 bodies believed to be of Daesh-linked militants in Marawi. (REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco)
Updated 12 October 2017
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Troops recover bodies of 22 ‘militants’ in Marawi

MANILA: The Philippine military announced on Wednesday that it has recovered the bodies of 22 suspected Maute militants in the war-torn city of Marawi on the island of Mindanao.
Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla, spokesman for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), told Arab News it is “probable” that one of those dead was one of the leaders of the Daesh-inspired Muslim extremist group.
The crisis in the Philippines’ only Muslim city has left over 1,000 dead in clashes between government troops and the group. After 142 days, the death toll includes 802 militants, 160 government troops and policemen, and 47 civilians, according to the military.
Padilla stressed that the military remained focused in its mission to liberate the city completely from the clutches of the Maute group.
The 22 corpses were recovered following a heavy firefight on Tuesday as the army attacked a terrorist base of two buildings, Padilla said. Eighteen bodies were recovered from one of the buildings and four from the other.
“The assault paved the way for the police’s forensic experts to come in. They will conduct DNA tests on the recovered bodies,” Padilla explained. Those tests will enable Philippine National Police (PNP) scenes of crime officers (SOCOs) to establish the identities of the dead, and to confirm if one of the Maute group’s leaders is indeed among them.
When asked what made the military conclude that the remains belonged to militants, Padilla said the buildings from which the bodies were recovered were the scene of “heavy resistance” from Maute fighters in a battle that “went on for a number of days.”
Aside from the 22 bodies, Padilla said the troops also recovered eight high-powered firearms, including two RPGs, four M16s, one M4, and one M14, along with “dozens and dozens” of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
“This must be the place where the rebels have been manufacturing the IEDs that have been used in the remaining areas of enemy-held territory,” Padilla explained.
Asked about Isnilon Hapilon, leader of Daesh in the Philippines, and Omar Maute, co-founder of the Dawlah Islamiyah group in Mindanao (commonly known as the Maute group), the AFP spokesman said they are still in the area, citing testimonies from rescued hostages.
Padilla also said the area controlled by the Maute group has now shrunk to five hectares or less, while the number of buildings that the military still need to clear is down to approximately 150.
He said the AFP believe that around 40 Maute fighters are still in the area but added that the military is “not giving any categorical statement on the deadline” for an end to the fighting.
Padilla stressed that the armed forces are doing everything possible to end the crisis so that efforts to rebuild the city can start. However, he noted: “The battle is still ongoing. Our troops are focused and determined to finish it as soon as possible, but they have to take into consideration the remaining hostages, who include a number of children.”


Russian ‘agent’ held on charges of seeking to infiltrate US govt

Maria Butina. (REUTERS)
Updated 27 min 30 sec ago
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Russian ‘agent’ held on charges of seeking to infiltrate US govt

  • Maria helped arrange visits by Torshin and other Russian officials to major political events
  • The arrest was announced Monday hours after Trump finished a summit and a press conference with Putin in Helsinki

WASHINGTON: A Russian gun rights enthusiast who built a network of powerful Republican contacts under the direction of a Kremlin power-broker was ordered held without bond Wednesday after FBI counterintelligence agents accused her of conspiring to infiltrate the US government.
US prosecutors said Maria Butina, 29, exploited her close links with the powerful NRA gun lobby while posing as a visiting graduate student to endear herself with senior Republicans, guided by one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s major political supporters, Alexander Torshin.
Butina was charged in the Washington federal court with acting illegally as an unregistered agent for the Russian government while she lived in Washington over the past three years with her boyfriend, a veteran Republican operative.
They called Butina a “covert Russian agent” who maintained contacts with Russian spies and pursued a mission “to penetrate the US national decision-making apparatus to advance the agenda of the Russian Federation.”
That included offering sex to get a job in a US lobbying group, according to documents filed in court by the Department of Justice.
Butina pleaded not guilty to two criminal charges of conspiring to act as a foreign agent without registering, and acting as a foreign agent. The first charge brings a maximum five years in prison, while the second carries a maximum 10 years.
“This is not a spy case,” her lawyer Robert Driscoll said after Butina appeared in court in an orange jumpsuit.
“The government is speculating that someone is a Russian spy, but thousands of Russians met intelligence operatives” in the United States, he said.

Butina’s arrest Sunday added to the political turmoil in Washington over Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election and allegations that President Donald Trump’s campaign collaborated with the Russians.
The arrest was announced Monday hours after Trump finished a summit and a press conference with Putin in Helsinki, Finland, where the US leader rejected the US intelligence community’s verdict that the Russians meddled to support him over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 race.
Trump reversed that stance a day later under heavy attack from US politicians of both parties.
FBI agents described a long-term operation stretching back as far as 2011 when Torshin met then-National Rifle Association president David Keene and Butina launched a mirror Russian gun rights group named The Right to Bear Arms.
She befriended the Republican operative, unnamed in the indictment but widely identified as Paul Erickson, 56, who opened doors to NRA and Republican circles.
Butina began visiting the United States and was regularly hosted by the NRA and other groups, and became a “life member” of the American gun rights lobby.
Pictures of her meeting prominent Republican governors and congressman, and the powerful leaders of the NRA, are splashed across her social media accounts.
In July 2015, Butina was selected to ask Trump a question about his plans for ties with Russia at a rally in Las Vegas.
“I believe I would get along very nicely with Putin.... I don’t think you’d need the sanctions,” he said, in possibly his first campaign trail pronouncement on the issue.
Her activities ramped up after she moved to the US capital on a student visa in 2016, attending American University graduate school while she lived with Erickson.
Hardly masking her networking efforts, she told colleagues at the school that she had a nearly direct line to Putin.
She helped arrange visits by Torshin and other Russian officials to major political events like the National Prayer Breakfast, as they sought to construct a “back channel” with sympathetic, influential Americans.
Meanwhile Erickson, citing his Russian connections, tried to arrange a meeting between Putin and Trump in early 2016.
And that year Butina reportedly met Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. at a private dinner in Louisville, Kentucky during the NRA annual convention.

The FBI’s investigation of Butina began before the probe led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, and the indictment did not involve Mueller’s team.
But the two investigations clearly overlapped, and Butina has already been interviewed by the Senate committee studying Russian meddling.
On Wednesday Moscow said the arrest was a political move seeking undermine the gains of the Helsinki summit.
“This happened with the obvious task of minimizing the positive effect,” of the Trump-Putin meeting, said foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.
“There is an impression the FBI is simply carrying out a clearly political order,” she said.