Army says battle for Philippine city to end soon, 1,000 dead

Philippine troops have missed previous deadlines to flush out the militants whom authorities said intended to establish a local Daesh caliphate. (AFP)
Updated 16 October 2017
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Army says battle for Philippine city to end soon, 1,000 dead

MARAWI: Philippine troops Sunday bombed militants loyal to the Daesh group who have held out for over four months in a southern city and the military said the conflict would be over “very soon.”
The army previously set a target of Sunday to end the fighting in Marawi, which it said has killed more than 1,000 people. Troops have missed previous deadlines to flush out the militants whom authorities said intended to establish a local Daesh caliphate.
On Sunday FA-50 fighter jets flew over Marawi as soldiers fought the militants house-to-house in an area which has now shrunk to about five acres (two hectares), a military spokesman said.
“We are hoping that we will end this Marawi siege very soon,” Col. Romeo Brawner, deputy commander of the task force battling the militants, told reporters.
Pro-Daesh gunmen occupied parts of Marawi, the Islamic capital of the mainly Catholic Philippines, on May 23.
Since then 822 militants, 162 government forces and 47 civilians have been killed, Brawner said.
The insurgents have withstood a relentless US-backed bombing campaign and intense ground battles with troops that have left large parts of Marawi resembling devastated cities in war-torn Syria and Iraq.
Military commanders last week set a target of October 15 to end the fighting and President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday said the battle was “almost over.”
Twenty soldiers were wounded on Saturday in a sign troops were pushing hard to end the battle, Brawner said.
He said 40 militants remained in the conflict area including leaders Isnilon Hapilon, who is on America’s list of most wanted terrorists with a $5 million bounty, and Omarkhayam Maute, whose group had pledged allegiance to Daesh.
There were also 100 civilians in the zone including hostages and families of the militants, he added.
“Women and children are now forced to fight together with the Maute-ISIS fighters. These are desperate measures the Maute-ISIS are doing. This is their last defensive stand,” Brawner said.
Duterte on Thursday warned against celebrating the eventual liberation of Marawi, citing the deaths and devastation there.
“When we leave Marawi, we go quietly. We do not want to show any kind of celebration or happiness,” he said.


Judge may acquit women or call defense in Kim Jong Nam trial

This combination of the Oct. 2, 2017 file photos shows Indonesian Siti Aisyah, left, and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, right, escorted by police as they leave a court hearing in Shah Alam, Malaysia, outside Kuala Lumpur. (AP)
Updated 14 min 21 sec ago
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Judge may acquit women or call defense in Kim Jong Nam trial

  • Evidence has shown the women’s conduct before and after the killing was inconsistent with that of assassins
  • The women had “used their bodily power” to deliberately target the poison on his eyes and face for faster penetration

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Two Southeast Asian women on trial in Malaysia for the brazen assassination of the North Korean leader’s half-brother could be acquitted Thursday or called to enter their defense in a case that has gripped the world.
Indonesia’s Siti Aisyah, 25, and Vietnam’s Doan Thi Huong, 29, are accused of smearing VX nerve agent on Kim Jong Nam’s face in a crowded airport terminal in Kuala Lumpur on Feb. 13, 2017. The women have said they thought they were taking part in a prank for a hidden-camera show.
They are the only two suspects in custody and face the death penalty if convicted. If the defense is called, the trial could take several more months.
If the women are acquitted, they may not be freed right away as prosecutors could still appeal the decision as well as push forward with separate charges for overstaying their visas.

Here’s a look at arguments that were raised during the trial:
THE PROSECUTION
Over the course of the six-month trial featuring testimony from 34 people, prosecutors laid out a bizarre murder plot they likened to something from a James Bond film.
They accused four North Koreans, suspected government agents with code names such as “Mr. Y” and “Grandpa” and later identified by police, of being the masterminds who recruited the women, trained them and provided them with VX. All four fled the country the same morning Kim was killed and none are in custody.
Airport security footage shown in court captured the moment of the attack and prosecutors said linked the women to the other suspects. Shortly after Kim arrived at the airport, Huong was seen approaching him, clasping her hands on his face from behind and then fleeing. Another blurred figure was also seen running away from Kim and a police investigator testified that it was Aisyah.
Investigators said the women were seen rushing to separate washrooms, each with their hands outstretched, before they fled the airport. Kim died within two hours of the attack.
A government chemist testified that the VX concentration found on Kim’s skin was 1.4 times greater than the lethal dosage. He said VX was found in Kim’s eyes, face, blood, urine and clothing, as well as on both women’s clothes and on Huong’s fingernail clippings.
In his closing arguments in June, prosecutor Wah Shaharuddin Wan Ladin said the women must have been trained to use VX, a rare nerve agent developed as a chemical weapon. He said they had to know the best route for VX to enter the victim’s body and know that they must wash the nerve agent off themselves within 15 minutes to avoid being contaminated.
With Kim a tall and heavy man, the prosecutor said the women had “used their bodily power” to deliberately target the poison on his eyes and face for faster penetration. Despite their claim about a prank, he said their facial expressions and conduct during the attack didn’t reflect any humor.
“We expect that the defense will be called for a simple reason: They need to explain why VX was found on them,” Wan Shaharuddin told The Associated Press.

THE DEFENSE
Lawyers for the two women say their clients were simply pawns in a politically motivated killing with clear links to the North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
They say the prosecution’s case was too simplistic, handicapped by a sloppy investigation and failed to show any intention on the part of their clients to kill — key to establishing the women’s guilt.
The defense said evidence has shown the women’s conduct before and after the killing was inconsistent with that of assassins, pointing out that they didn’t wear gloves when applying VX, didn’t dispose of their tainted clothing and didn’t flee the country.
The real culprits, the defense argues, are the four North Korean suspects. The four were captured by airport security cameras discarding their belongings and changing their clothing after the attack.
The North Korean Embassy has also been implicated with an embassy official helping get flights out for the four men and using the name of one of its citizens to buy a car that was used to take the suspects to the airport.
Nevertheless, Pyongyang has denied accusations by South Korean and US officials that it was behind the killing. Malaysian officials have never officially accused North Korea and have made it clear they don’t want the trial politicized.
“The prosecution’s evidence is purely circumstantial,” Aisyah’s lawyer Gooi Soon Seng said, noting that there was no proof that his client applied VX on Kim. He said his client’s DNA was not found on a shirt recovered by police.
Huong’s lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik said they have given prosecution “a good fight.”
“We are confident that justice will be served on Thursday and (Huong) will be acquitted,” he said.