Philippines on alert for attack by pro-Daesh militants

Philippine security forces are keeping a close watch on all major cities, including Manila, amid reports that militants from a pro-Daesh alliance behind last year’s Marawi siege are planning another attack. (File Photo: AFP)
Updated 06 March 2018
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Philippines on alert for attack by pro-Daesh militants

MANILA: Philippine security forces are keeping a close watch on all major cities, including Manila, amid reports that militants from a pro-Daesh alliance behind last year’s Marawi siege are planning another attack, a military spokesman said on Tuesday.
The alert comes as the government acknowledges that although the military suppressed the rebellion by Daesh-inspired Maute militants and liberated Marawi City after nearly five months of fighting last year, the threat of insurgency remains.
In a press briefing, Brig. Gen. Bienvenido Datuin, spokesman for the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said that there was still a possibility of increased terrorist activity on Mindanao island in the southern Philippines.
He said that all reports of activities of militant groups in the country were being taken very seriously.
“We have complete and continuous monitoring by the Coast Guard, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and the Philippine National Police. And of course, we have the trilateral and bilateral conventions and protocols and agreements with other countries, so we are doing continuous aerial and coastal monitoring,” Datuin said.
The army statement came in the wake of reports that remnants of the Maute group who escaped before the military retook Marawi City last October are “regrouping, retraining and recruiting for another attack.”
Lt. Gen. Rolando Bautista, the Philippines Army chief, earlier said that militants who had escaped the battle in Marawi with huge sums of cash looted from homes were using the funds to recruit new members and re-arm, and to possibly stage similar attacks.
“The recruitment continues, meaning when there is recruitment there is still a possibility that they will besiege another city, not necessarily Marawi City. That is a big possibility,” he told reporters.
On Monday, Maj. Ronald Suscano, spokesman for the Army’s 1st Infantry Division, said the Maute remnants broke into smaller groups, with some slipping into the capital Manila to carry out bombings.
During the weekend, joint military and police teams arrested Abdul Nasser Lomondot, a sub-leader of the Maute Group in Manila. Lomondot was reportedly involved in violent activities perpetrated by the militant group, including in the planning of Marawi siege. He was arrested with fellow Maute member Rizasalam Lomondot.
In February, authorities also arrested Fehmi Lassoued, alias John Rasheed Lassoned, an Egyptian who is said to be a high-ranking member of Daesh. Lassoued was arrested after police and military intelligence teams raided an apartment in Manila.
“Anything is possible,” said Datuin, adding that the government security forces were closely monitoring all city and urban areas to thwart militant attacks, especially during the Holy Week. “We have a standing order to prevent terroristic acts from happening in these critical days,” he said.
The US last week described the Maute Group and the Islamic State in the Philippines (ISP) as globally designated terrorist organizations.
Ambassador Nathan Sales, the State Department’s counterterrorism coordinator, said the US was very concerned about Daesh’s presence in Southeast Asia, the most visible example of which was the Daesh network in the Philippines that took control of Marawi. He said that the Maute Group and the ISP are among the most ambitious affiliates of the Daesh network.
“(Daesh) fighters, ideologues, recruiters, are still active. Some are active in the Philippines; some are active in other countries in the region. And so the United States and the State Department in particular are looking very closely at what we can do,” he said.
Arsenio Andolong, spokesperson for the Philippines Department of National Defense, told Arab News: “Daesh-Maute needs funds and resources to sustain their operations. With the affirmation of their status as a terrorist organization by the US government, the flow of money from their supporters to their cells will be adversely affected, and their network as well as movement of their members will be monitored more closely. The world suddenly just became even smaller for them.”


Pakistan and China push for peace in Afghanistan

Updated 15 December 2018
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Pakistan and China push for peace in Afghanistan

  • Trilateral talks also focused on boosting trust and security between the three countries
  • FM Qureshi extends the olive branch for a new chapter with Kabul

KABUL: Foreign Ministers of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China held a trilateral meeting in Kabul on Saturday where they discussed measures to boost political trust and join hands for a regional war against militancy which would facilitate the Afghan peace process, even as Taliban insurgents stepped up their attacks.

The meeting was the second one to take place after Beijing had initiated the talks in December last year in order to ease the rising tension between Kabul and Islamabad whose relationship is highly critical for Beijing’s growing economic and political clout in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In recent years, China has deepened its economic and political ties with Afghanistan and is actively using its influence to bring the two South Asian neighbors closer.

Pakistan has long been accused by Afghanistan and the US of providing safe havens for Afghan Taliban leaders, by funding and arming them since their ouster in late 2001.

Islamabad has denied the allegations.

After the meeting on Saturday, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi pushed for a new chapter with Afghanistan, adding that the ongoing blame game would not help in achieving peace or building trust between Islamabad and Kabul.

He said that the Daesh and militants from Central Asia and eastern China were against the peace process in Afghanistan, urging for joint efforts to tackle the extremism.

“I am here to engage with Afghanistan. Let us not stick to the past and stop pointing a finger on Pakistan… I came here to build trust and bridges and reach peace and stability. Any improvement in Afghanistan will benefit Pakistan,” Qureshi told a news conference.

The three countries signed an agreement pushing for joint efforts in the war against militancy with Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister, Salahuddin Rabbani, saying that the coming weeks and months will be highly crucial in evaluating Pakistan’s intentions and its role in supporting an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process.

Officials from both Afghanistan and Pakistan have held a number of meetings in recent years to mend bilateral ties and work towards measures to fight militancy. However, those talks were an exercise in futility as they were followed by the two countries trading accusations and resorting to the blame game. Rabbani said that “the time has come (for Pakistan) to practically show with genuine steps” that it will fulfill its pledges.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi described both Afghanistan and Pakistan as its strategic partners, adding that China had great political trust in the two. He asked both the countries to resolve their problems in a peaceful manner and backed the US’ efforts to engage in peace talks with the Taliban, urging the militant group to get involved in the process. 

“We support Afghanistan and Pakistan’s efforts for peace and we call on the Taliban to join the peace process. Cooperation between Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China is important to bring peace to Afghanistan.” 

The three sides emphasized the importance of regional connectivity and economic development between them. 

Saturday’s meeting took place at a time when Washington is stepping up its efforts to hold talks with the Taliban by meeting with regional powers on how to end the US war in Afghanistan which began more than 17 years ago.

Mohammad Nateqi, a former Afghan diplomat, said that a deciding factor for Saturday’s agreement to work depended on building mutual trust between Pakistan and Afghanistan given the fact that similar conversations have taken place between Kabul and Islamabad earlier as well, without bearing any fruit.

However, at the same time, he was optimistic about positive results, reasoning that the situation had changed when compared to the past with the US increasing its efforts for talks with the Taliban.

“Such meetings can be helpful in mending ties between the countries and in helping them come closer to achieving a peace plan,” he told Arab News.