Man arrested in Philippines is ‘ranking Daesh member,’ police say

Philippine National Police Chief Gen. Ronald dela Rosa, right, answers questions from the media as he presents arrested foreigner Fehmi Lassoued, also known as John Rasheed Lassoned, allegedly a native of Egypt, along with a Filipino companion Anabel Moncera Salipada, left, Monday. (AP)
Updated 19 February 2018

Man arrested in Philippines is ‘ranking Daesh member,’ police say

MANILA: Authorities in the Philippines on Friday arrested an Arab man who police claim is “a ranking member” of Daesh.
Director General of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Ronald dela Rosa said teams from the police and military intelligence raided an apartment in the nation’s capital of Manila and arrested Fehmi Lassoued, alias John Rasheed Lassoued, and his 32-year-old Filipina girlfriend Anabel Salipada.
There are varying reports of Lassoued’s nationality and origins. Reuters claimed he was born in the United Arab Emirates and is of Libyan and Tunisian descent “but lived in Syria for many years,” while several media outlets referred to him as Egyptian. 
During a search of the couple’s rented apartment, the authorities reportedly discovered firearms, ammunition, bomb-making components, and a Daesh flag, along with some drawings and maps that police claim indicate that Lassoued was planning a terror attack.
According to dela Rosa, Lassoued was a former mediator between Daesh leaders and local officials in Syria and Turkey and is now involved in recruiting Islamic militants in the Philippines, including for the pro-Daesh Maute group which led the siege of Marawi City in Mindanao last year.
Lassoued has reportedly denied the allegations against him, saying he fled Syria because Daesh had started to establish a presence there.
Lassoued allegedly entered the Philippines in July 2016 via Iran using a fake Tunisian passport. Since then, he has visited Malaysia and Turkey a number of times.
Dela Rosa said authorities received information about Lassoued from foreign law enforcement organizations. Following an investigation, that information was found to be accurate and the raid was authorized.
“A thorough investigation is now underway to determine the extent of (the suspects’) involvement with international and domestic (terror) groups,” dela Rosa told reporters.
Following the arrest, National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) chief Oscar Albayalde told reporters that, aside from Mindanao, Islamic terrorists have found some other areas of the Philippines in which to hide, including in Metro Manila. 
“They have sympathizers here who could take them in,” Albayalde said, adding, “We are not accusing our Muslim brothers here.”
The commander of the Joint Task Force-National Capital Region, Brig. Gen. Allan Arrojado, told Arab News that his team is attempting to verify if there are currently other people with links to Daesh in Metro Manila.
“We have been monitoring suspected areas and organizations. But (the cases are) still ongoing,” he said.
Arrojado did not discount the possibility that there could be extremist elements in the Philippines’ capital city, but added that there is an “ongoing effort to touch base with Muslim organizations here” in an effort to counter violent extremism. 
Stephen Cutler, an international security expert and retired US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent, told Arab News there have been rumors of extremist groups in Metro Manila for “quite some time,” and pointed out that a metropolis of 13-to-15 million people is an easy place to hide. 
Cutler noted that capturing Lassoued alive meant the police and intelligence agencies now had the opportunity to extract valuable information from him “and hopefully they will file proper charges against him.”

Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh get doves of peace from the Middle East

Updated 10 min 14 sec ago

Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh get doves of peace from the Middle East

  • A Dubai NGO has paired up with one in the UK to distribute toys made from upcycled refugee blankets
  • It’s one initiative marking the UN’s International Day of Peace on Friday, at a time when the world is in conflict

DUBAI: Eight-year-old Anjuman, living in Camp 7 at Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, has received the most beautiful gift. “I am very happy to have received this dove. I like it so much,” she said.

She is among 150 children in the camp who have received “peace doves” from Dubai after winning an art competition organized in the camp.

To celebrate the UN-declared International Day of Peace on Friday, a Dubai-based NGO, NRS International, and a UK-based NGO, Empathy Action, have given wings to a message of hope, peace and reconciliation. 

Both these organizations have come together to make dove toys (symbolizing peace) to distribute among children, who are among the first victims of conflict in any part of the world.

And while peace isn’t something the world often associates with the Middle East, there are plenty of ways in which countries in the region are trying to make the world a better place, from smaller initiatives such as the doves in Bangladesh to major efforts such as the peace deal brokered this week by Saudi Arabia between Ethiopia and Eritrea. 

The peace doves were handmade by women at NRS International’s factory in Pakistan. As many as 650 dove toys have been stitched and handcrafted from upcycled offcuts of refugee blankets and tarpaulins.

“Each dove, made from excess blanket material that normally keeps refugees warm, is a symbol of peace,” said Wieke de Vries, head of corporate social responsibility at NRS International. It is the leading supplier of humanitarian relief items such as fleece blankets to UN agencies and international aid organizations.

Sandy Glanfield, innovations manager at Empathy Action, said the doves will carry a reminder that for 68.5 million displaced people worldwide, a blanket or tarpaulin is a basic necessity to survive. “The passionate and skillful women who made the doves add the love into this story,” said Glanfield.

About 150 larger versions of peace doves have been distributed to Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh camps, with the support of the Danish Refugee Council. 

S.M. Atiqur Reza, who is a child protection assistant at the council, said that the peace doves have put smiles on the faces of the children in the refugee camp. 

“The children were so excited, and they loved these doves and making plans to take it back home (whenever they go back home).” 

But in a world of conflicts, there is still much to be done. Anjuman is just one of nearly 25.4 million refugees in the world, over half of whom are under the age of 18.

Dr. Hadia Aslam, who sets up health care systems for refugees in Europe and the Middle East, is not hopeful about world peace in the near future.

“I feel we have desensitized entirely to any atrocity that happens now. Nothing shocks us. I do not see a future for peace, but I do see conflict. Our systems are geared to hosting this,” said the young doctor, who is the founder of a charity that has treated thousands of refugees in Europe. 

For her, human rights violations by Israel are a major threat to world peace. “I don’t know a lot about politics, but I can categorically raise concerns about Israel’s human rights track record being astounding and the world silently watching. Their only motive is occupation and apartheid. There is no space for peace in such a place.”

Vidya Bhushan Rawat, a leading peace activist based in New Delhi, said that the biggest threat to peace is injustice and growing inequalities.” I don’t think that the world has become a peaceful place at the moment. There is a steady growth of right-wing politics the world over, where minorities and immigrants are considered a threat to the nation.

“To protect the only planet we have we need to eradicate poverty, illiteracy, hunger, malnutrition, gender disparity and superstition from our societies.”

Dr. Kamran Bokhari, director of strategy and programs at the Center for Global Policy in Washington, does not see peace becoming the norm any time soon.

 “We constantly hear about peace talks. But seldom do these efforts produce actual peace. The rise of nationalism is undoing the internationalist order that we thought would gain ground after the end of the Cold War a quarter of a century ago. Meanwhile, non-state actors are filling the vacuums left behind by weakening states, which suggests greater, not less, global conflict.”

Dr. Shehab Al-Makehleh also believes that the world is less peaceful now than it has been in a long time. “Right now, peacefulness is at the worst level of any time since 2012. By the end of 2017, 1 percent of the world population had been refugees and displaced,” said the executive director of Geostrategic media in Washington, DC.

He does not expect things to improve unless decision-makers in the international community give this matter attention as the world will be witnessing new economic and financial crises that could turn major countries into enemies.

“Unless the UN takes necessary measures that the world does not fall into anarchy due to populism and nationalism, the domino effect will cross borders, causing insecurity at all levels, toppling some regimes and changing borders with hundreds of thousands of people dying of poverty and terrorism,” Dr. Al-Makehleh said.

All the more reason to bring hope to children such as Anjuman. As Reza said of the Rohingya children in the camp: “They want peace. They say they want to go back home. They want to go to their schools and study. They find the camp is a very small place to live. They are really sad here.”