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.”


Italy defiant as migrant ship stranded in Mediterranean

Updated 43 min 20 sec ago
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Italy defiant as migrant ship stranded in Mediterranean

ROME: Italy defiantly declared Saturday that its ports were closed to foreign-flagged rescue ships as German charity vessel Lifeline lay off the coast of Malta in limbo with more than 230 migrants aboard.
Malta — which is also refusing to take in the boat in a new diplomatic standoff with Italy — nevertheless said it had sent in humanitarian supplies.
“The Lifeline, an illegal ship with 239 immigrants on board is in Maltese waters,” Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini wrote on Facebook.
“These boats can forget about reaching Italy, I want to stop the business of trafficking and mafia.”
Salvini’s tough talk came on the eve of a emergency mini-summit in Brussels to address the divisive issue of how the EU can tackle the renewed influx of migrants and refugees seeking a new life in Europe.
Just three weeks in office, Italy’s new populist government is digging its heels in on campaign promises to stop the influx of migrants, threatening to seize rescue ships or barring them from its ports.
The crisis has also caused ructions in Germany, with Chancellor Angela Merkel facing a rebellion from her coalition allies over her policies.
Meanwhile, more than 400 migrants were rescued in three operations off the coast of Spain on Saturday, just days after Madrid took in the more than 600 rejected by Italy and Malta.
And the Libyan navy said five people died and nearly 200 were rescued off its coast while trying to cross the Mediterranean.
The Italian government has said both the Lifeline, run by German NGO Mission Lifeline, and another ship Seefuchs, run by another German charity Sea-Eye, — would be seized and directed to Italian ports for investigation “into their legal status.”
Rome accuses the Lifeline of having acted in contravention of international law by taking on board migrants while the Libyan coast guard was intervening.
Earlier this month Salvini triggered an EU-wide row when he barred the French charity-run Aquarius rescue ship, carrying 630 migrants, from docking in Italy.
Malta also refused to take it in and the ship was later welcomed by Spain.
Salvini said Friday that Malta should open its ports to the Lifeline, adding: “Clearly, the boat should immediately be impounded and its crew arrested.”
But Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said the Lifeline “broke rules” by ignoring Italy’s directions and should move toward its original destination “to prevent escalation.”
“Despite having no responsibility #Malta just provided humanitarian supplies” while its armed forces carried out the medical evacuation of one passenger, he said.
As the two neighbors squabbled, a Danish cargo ship carrying 113 migrants was stationed near the Sicilian port of Pozzallo waiting for instructions from Italy.
The Alexander Maersk changed course after picking up a distress call Friday, a spokesman for Maersk Line said, without specifying where the migrtants were rescued.
Mission Lifeline denied Italy’s accusations regarding the rescue in Libyan waters, saying it was the best equipped vessel to help.
“We are waiting for a diplomatic solution, discussions are under way between different states to host the Lifeline and those rescued,” the organization’s representative in Germany, Axel Steier, told AFP.
Steier said 14 women and four children were among those on board.
The issue of migration was thrust to the forefront of the EU agenda after Italy turned away the Aquarius.
But the Aquarius defiantly vowed to continue its work and an AFP photographer on board said Saturday that it was currently responding to distress call in Tunisian waters.
Italy hard-line stance comes at a time of deep EU tensions on immigration.
Sunday’s mini-summit is supposed to prepare for a full summit next week, where 28 EU leaders will discuss plans to overhaul the bloc’s asylum system, which has been under severe pressure since the migration crisis exploded in 2015.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel — facing a ferocious political backlash for letting in over one million asylum seekers into Europe’s biggest economy — played down expectations of a quick solution.
“We know that no solution will be reached on Thursday and Friday at the level of the 28 member states... on the overall issue of migration,” she said on a visit to Lebanon.
Instead, she said, “bilateral, trilateral and multilateral” deals must be reached to tackle the issue.
German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer warned Monday he would give Merkel a fortnight to find a European deal to curb new arrivals, failing which he vowed to order border police to turn back migrants.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis also said Friday he was ready to start turning away migrants if Berlin and Vienna did so.