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.”


Cyclone death toll above 750; fighting disease new challenge

A boat carries people from Buzi on a river near Beira, Mozambique, on March 22, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 32 min 22 sec ago
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Cyclone death toll above 750; fighting disease new challenge

  • Nearly 110,000 people are now in camps more than a week after Cyclone Idai hit, said Correia, the government’s emergency coordinator
  • Malaria is another looming health problem that the minister said was “unavoidable” because large expanses of standing water encourage the spread of malaria-carrying mosquitoes

BEIRA, Mozambique: Cyclone Idai’s death toll has risen above 750 in the three southern African countries hit 10 days ago by the storm, as workers restore electricity, water and try to prevent outbreak of cholera, authorities said Sunday.
In Mozambique the number of dead has risen to 446 while there are 259 dead in Zimbabwe and at least 56 dead in Malawi for a three-nation total of 761.
All numbers for deaths are still preliminary, warned Mozambique’s Environment Minister Celso Correia. As flood waters recede and more bodies are discovered, the final death toll in Mozambique alone could be above the early estimate of 1,000 made by the country’s president a few days after the cyclone hit, said aid workers.
Nearly 110,000 people are now in camps more than a week after Cyclone Idai hit, said Correia, the government’s emergency coordinator. As efforts to rescue people trapped by the floods wind down, aid workers across the vast region are bracing for the spread of disease.
“We’ll have cholera for sure,” Correia said at a press briefing, saying a center to respond to cholera has been set up in Beira though no cases have yet been confirmed.
Beira is working to return basic services, he said. Electricity has been restored to water pumping and treatment stations by the government water agency, so Beira and the nearby city of Dondo are getting clean water, he said. Electricity has been restored to part of Beira and the port and railway line have re-opened, he said.
Repairs and bypasses are being built to the main road, EN6, which links Beira to the rest of Mozambique and the road should open Monday, said Correia. The restored road connection will allow larger deliveries of food, medicines and other essential supplies to be to be brought to Beira and to flooded areas like Nhamatanda, west of the city.
“People are already going,” the environment minister said of the newly accessible road.
Malaria is another looming health problem that the minister said was “unavoidable” because large expanses of standing water encourage the spread of malaria-carrying mosquitoes.
Asked about his country’s current corruption scandal and whether the diversion of money has hurt the rescue efforts, Correia bristled, saying the government’s focus now is on saving lives.
“We are doing everything to fight corruption,” he said. “It’s systematic, up to the top,” he said of the anti-graft drive.
Two large field hospitals and water purification systems were on the way, joining a wide-ranging effort that includes drones to scout out areas in need across the landscape of central Mozambique, said Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, deputy director of the UN Humanitarian operation.
The scale of the devastation is “extraordinary” not only because of the cyclone and flooding but because the land had already had been saturated by earlier rains, he said.
A huge number of aid assets are now in Mozambique, Stampa said: “No government in the world can respond alone in these circumstances.”