Big blow to Daesh as Philippine army eliminates top militants

Philippine military chief General Eduardo Año shows images of Islamic militant leaders Isnilon Hapilon, right, and Omarkhayam Maute, left, during a press conference at a military camp in Marawi on the southern island of Mindanao on Monday. (AFP)
Updated 17 October 2017
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Big blow to Daesh as Philippine army eliminates top militants

MANILA: Daesh has suffered a major setback in East Asia. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) reported to have killed two of the main leaders of Daesh who have held parts of Marawi city on Mindanao in the Philippines since May 23.
The crisis has left more than 1,000 people dead, mostly members of the Maute group, but including 162 soldiers and policemen, and 47 civilians.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Monday announced the deaths of Isnilon Hapilon and Omarkhayam Maute. The two men were killed during an early morning ground assault on the remaining stronghold of the Maute group in Marawi.
“I confirm the killing of Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute,” Lorenzana said. The bodies of the slain militant leaders have been recovered and will be subjected to DNA tests, he added.
AFP Chief Gen. Eduardo Año called their deaths “the straw that has broken the camel’s back” and claimed “the Marawi crisis will be over sooner than later.”
Hapilon, a former Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) leader regarded by the US as one of the world’s most dangerous terrorists, was Daesh’s designated leader for Southeast Asia. The US had placed a $5 million bounty on him, while the Philippine government had offered a 17.4 million peso bounty (approximately $348,000).
Maute was the co-founder, along with his brother Abdullah, of Daesh. Maute had a 5 million peso bounty on his head.
Lorenzana said the offensive began at 2 a.m. and lasted around four hours. It was triggered by information provided by a former female hostage on the location of Isnilon and Maute, he added.
“She was able to confirm the presence of Isnilon and Maute in that particular building.”
Military spokesman Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla said Hapilon was hit in the chest during an exchange of fire with government forces. Maute was shot in the head by a sniper.
Año said troops were also able to recover seven other bodies of suspected militants.
The operation also resulted in the rescue of 20 civilian hostages, including a two-month-old girl.
Steve Cutler, an international security analyst and former head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in Manila, told Arab News that the death of Hapilon and Maute is a major setback for Daesh.
“It is a huge blow to Daesh... and any dreams that Daesh have of establishing a caliphate here.”
Cutler said that the longer the Marawi crisis continues, the more strength the narrative of Daesh establishing a caliphate in East Asia has. But the death of the two leaders, he said, completely changes that narrative.
“These deaths are game changers. They remove the guiding lights — the leading personalities of the movement here,” Cutler said. They will be replaced, he added, but “the replacements are not charismatic leaders of the caliber of these two.”
And while the death of Hapilon and Maute diminishes the morale of the militants, it greatly improves that of the Philippine government.
“It strengthens the general view of the competence of the Philippine forces and their ability to fight effectively,” Cutler said. “Daesh is under destruction in the Middle East and their plans for the Philippines to become a hub in Southeast Asia are severely damaged.
“(The militants) will continue to fight, and will kill more. They are still dangerous and cannot be underestimated. But they will not succeed (in their aims),” he added.
Political analyst Ramon Casiple, however, while admitting it was a major blow to Daesh, described the deaths of the two militant leaders as “a temporary setback.”
“This will not stop them,” he said. “Remember, Daesh is a religious organization.” He warned that their deaths do not mean there is no longer a Daesh “presence” in the Philippines.
“There’s still the ASG and other groups (such as the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters),” he said, noting that a new generation with Daesh-provided strategies and tactics will eventually replace them.
Año believes it will just be a matter of days before the government can finally declare that Marawi has been freed from Daesh’s control.
“I’m certain that the neutralization of Hapilon and Omar is the last straw. The terrorists will crumble. It is a dead-end. There is nowhere to go for them,” Año said. He then urged the remaining Maute fighters to free their hostages.
Lorenzana said government forces are still pursuing Mahmud Ahmad, said to be Malaysia’s most wanted terrorist. Ahmad is suspected of channeling more than P30 million (approximately $600,000) from Daesh to fund the Marawi siege.
The army believes he is currently in one of the buildings inside the main battle zone.
Around 30 militants, including eight foreign terrorists, reportedly remain in the area. The militants are also believed to still hold 22 civilian hostages.


Britain’s opposition Labour backs new election over Brexit impasse

Updated 23 September 2018
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Britain’s opposition Labour backs new election over Brexit impasse

  • Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn has so far resisted calls to back a ‘People’s Vote,’ or new referendum on the decision to quit the EU
  • Brexit minister Dominic Raab again ruled out a new election, describing the suggestion as ‘for the birds’
LIVERPOOL: Britain’s opposition Labour Party prefers a new election to a second referendum on Brexit, its leader said on Sunday, heaping pressure on Prime Minister Theresa May whose plans for a deal with the EU have hit an impasse.
Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn has so far resisted calls to back a “People’s Vote,” or new referendum on the decision to quit the EU.
But the political landscape has changed since May was ambushed by the European Union on Thursday over her plans for Brexit — the biggest shift in British policy for more than four decades.
With talk of a new election swirling after May’s “Chequers” plan was all but shredded at an EU summit in Austria last week and chances of Britain exiting the bloc without a deal rising, Labour is under pressure to start setting the Brexit agenda.
Corbyn, a veteran euroskeptic who in 1975 voted “No” to Britain’s membership of the then-European Community, said that while he would listen to a debate about any possible second vote on Britain’s membership, he preferred a snap election if May failed to get a deal that Labour could support in parliament.
“Our preference would be for a general election and we can then negotiate our future relationship with Europe but let’s see what comes out of conference,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, saying Labour was ready to vote against any deal.
“We would vote it down if it didn’t meet our tests in order to send the government, if it is still in office, straight back to the negotiating table and if there is a general election and we are in office we would go straight to the negotiating table.”
Corbyn’s close ally, Len McCluskey, leader of Britain’s biggest trade union Unite, told the BBC any such second referendum “shouldn’t be on: ‘do we want to go back into the European Union?’” as that had been answered in the 2016 referendum.
Britain is to exit the EU in March. After weeks of both sides making positive noises about prospects of clinching a divorce deal and their future trading relationship, the mood turned sour on Thursday in Salzburg, Austria, when the bloc’s leaders, one by one, came out to criticize May’s Chequers plans.
A tacit agreement to try to offer her some support before she heads to what is going to be a difficult annual conference of her governing Conservative Party later this month was broken by some British diplomatic missteps.
May says she will hold her nerve in the talks, pressing the EU to come up with an alternative proposal to her Chequers plan, named after the prime minister’s country residence where a deal was hashed out with her top ministers in July.
But the impasse with the EU has prompted some to predict an early election, with local media reporting that May’s team has begun contingency planning for a snap vote in November to save both Brexit and her job.
Brexit minister Dominic Raab again ruled out a new election, describing the suggestion as “for the birds.” He said Britain would not “flit from plan to plan like some sort of diplomatic butterfly.”
“We are going to be resolute about this,” Raab added.
While saying she will stick to her guns, May might have little chance but to change tack after a party conference where the deep divisions over Europe that have riven her Conservatives for decades will be in plain sight.
A senior pro-EU Conservative lawmaker, Nicky Morgan, said May would have to give ground on trade and customs arrangements to overcome the biggest obstacle to a withdrawal accord — the prevention of a hard border between the British province of Northern Ireland and Ireland, a member of the EU.
“I am not sure there is life left in Chequers,” Morgan, chair of parliament’s Treasury Select Committee and a former cabinet minister under May’s predecessor, told Sky News.
“We want to see a deal. The question I think that has to be answered now by the government, by the EU leaders, is what room for movement is there, how do we move on from where we ended up last week?”