Abu Sayyaf faction behind deadly Philippine church bombings, says army chief

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gen. Benjamin Madrigal Jr., right, during the interview with Arab News. (AN photo)
Updated 30 January 2019
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Abu Sayyaf faction behind deadly Philippine church bombings, says army chief

  • Immigration bureau on high alert to prevent possible entry of foreign terrorists
  • The Jan. 27 attacks, killed at least 21 people and wounded more than 100

MANILA: Twin bombings during a church service on a southern Philippine island were most likely perpetrated by a cell from a domestic militant group, the country’s armed forces chief said Tuesday.
The Jan. 27 attacks on Jolo Island, Sulu province, killed at least 21 people and wounded more than 100. They were one of the deadliest in recent years in a region plagued by decades of instability.
“The most prominent, the most possible angle is that it was perpetrated by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) under commander Hajjan Sawadjan” with the support of the Ajang-Ajang faction of the group, Gen. Benjamin Madrigal Jr. told Arab News.
Abu Sayyaf, meaning “Bearer of the Sword,” was founded in the 1990s. Some factions of ASG have pledged allegiance to Daesh in 2014. ASG is mostly engage in piracy and kidnap for ransom. Experts say the group is fragmented and lacks a central command, operating largely in disparate cells run by different commanders across the Sulu Archipelago.
Ajang-Ajang, a cell within ASG, is notorious for kidnapping and extortion in Sulu. Police believe it carried out the church attacks.
On Tuesday the military also identified one of the suspects as Kamah, a known bombmaker and brother of slain senior ASG figure Surakah Ingog.
Madrigal said it was unclear if the church attacks were suicide bombings.
If confirmed as suicide bombings this would be the second such attack in the Philippines and consistent with details of a claim of responsibility by Daesh through its Amaq news agency on Monday.
 The army chief downplayed the Daesh announcement, however, saying anyone could claim the attack and it was yet to be proven if it was the work of Daesh.
He said it was possible that Sawadjan’s group were inspired by Daesh, but that the attackers were “locals, and part of the ASG.”
There have been reports in the last few years that foreign Daesh fighters forced out of Syria and Iraq were arriving in the Philippines with the aim of recruiting.
Daesh announced in 2016 that it had established what it called the “East Asia Province” in the Philippines, appointing ex-ASG leader Insilon Hapilon as its chief.
More than 1,100 people were killed in 2017 when pro-Daesh militants attacked and held the Philippine city of Marawi for five months, leading to massive destruction across the scenic lakeside town.
Last year Daesh said it was behind an attack in which a device was detonated by the driver of a van when he was stopped at a remote checkpoint in Basilan province, killing 11 people. The driver was believed to be a foreigner and may have triggered the device prematurely, security officials told journalists at the time.
“Daesh-linked personalities have been looking into Southeast Asia,” Madrigal said. He added there were reports that some transnational individuals linked with the group had embedded themselves in ASG and were engaged in training its members, especially in IED making.
But the general claimed that such individuals had been thwarted.
“We have to maintain and enhance our coordination with our Asian neighbors so that even before coming into the Philippines we are able to arrest and neutralize these personalities,” he said, referring to Indonesia and Malaysia.
The Philippines’ immigration bureau said it was on high alert to prevent the possible entry of foreign terrorists.
Madrigal said local government units needed to be improved further so they could raise awareness on how to identify and inform authorities about suspicious people in their surroundings.
Speaking about international counterterrorism cooperation, the army chief said the Philippines was working with Interpol and the Transnational Crimes Group and had military-to-military intelligence exchanges with countries in the neighborhood and the Middle East.
“At the moment we have had [intelligence] exchanges with Jordan, Saudi Arabia and we are getting in touch with Pakistan, Turkey and such other countries,” Madrigal said. “We really have to enhance our counterterrorism cooperation.”
When asked if there were foreign fighters currently in the southern island of Mindanao: the army chief said:
“They are [a] handful. Some of them [have] already been arrested in the country. Some of them have already been arrested in Indonesia and Malaysia through our cooperation with our neighbors.”


G20 set to agree on marine plastic pollution deal

Updated 16 June 2019
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G20 set to agree on marine plastic pollution deal

  • Plastic pollution has become an increasing international concern
  • Among the many concerns is the issue of microplastics, the tiny pieces of degraded waste that are difficult to collect once they enter the water

TOKYO: The Group of 20 major economies were set to agree a deal on reducing marine plastic waste at a meeting in Japan Sunday where they also discussed energy security following the oil tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman.
Japan “proposed a workable framework” on marine plastic waste that involves emerging and less developed countries, and was welcomed by member countries, environment minister Yoshiaki Harada told reporters late Saturday at the G20 environment and energy ministers’ meeting.
Plastic pollution has become an increasing international concern, particularly after bans imposed by China and other countries on the import of plastic waste from overseas.
Many countries, including Japan, have seen plastic waste pile up in the wake of the ban.
Among the many concerns is the issue of microplastics, the tiny pieces of degraded waste that are difficult to collect once they enter the water.
Microplastics tend to absorb harmful chemicals and accumulate inside fish, birds and other animals.
The proposal, made at the two-day meeting in the central mountain resort of Karuizawa, would be the first-ever framework to reduce plastic pollution in the ocean, and is expected to be included in a joint communique by the G20 ministers later Sunday.
Under the expected agreement, G20 members would commit to undertaking efforts to reduce the amount of plastic waste that ends up polluting oceans and to reporting their progress on a regular basis, according to Japanese media.
If an international framework on reducing marine plastic waste is agreed, it would be “the first step toward resolving the issue,” Hiroaki Odachi of Greenpeace Japan told AFP.
“But given the critical situation of ocean pollution with plastics, it is urgently needed to set up legally binding action plans with clear timelines and goals,” he added.
With only an estimated nine percent of plastics ever produced recycled, campaigners say the only long-term solution to the plastic waste crisis is for companies to make less and consumers to use less.
Japanese industry minister Hiroshige Seko, who is co-chairing the discussions with Harada, said late Saturday that Japan would aim to require businesses to charge for disposable shopping bags by as early as April to help reduce waste.
Many countries in the world already charge for single-use bags or ban them outright.
On energy security, Seko said Tokyo “is watching with grave concerns at the attacks on oil tankers by someone.”
“From a viewpoint of global energy security, it is necessary for the international community to jointly deal with the act,” Seko told the meeting.
The ministers agreed on the importance of securing stable energy supplies, he said.