Philippines ‘facing a new wave of terror’: Experts

Director General Oscar Albayalde of the Philippine National Police at a news conference Monday to announce the surrender of five suspected Abu Sayyaf militants. (AP)
Updated 05 February 2019

Philippines ‘facing a new wave of terror’: Experts

  • On Jan. 27 the bombing of a Roman Catholic cathedral on Sulu island left 23 dead and more than 100 injured
  • Security analysts say Manila urgently needs new counterinsurgency strategy

MANILA: The Philippines is facing the threat of a new wave of terror attacks following the recent cathedral bombing which killed 23 people, security experts have warned. 

A new counterterrorism strategy is urgently required to combat an influx of Daesh-inspired foreign fighters who are expected to launch further raids over the coming months.

Rohan Gunaratna, a professor of security studies at Nanyang Technological University, in Singapore, told Arab News that since the five-month siege of the Philippine city of Marawi in 2017, the threat from Daesh-linked militants has spread to other regions of Mindanao.

The Philippine authorities declared victory against Daesh in the country after government forces won a bloody battle to liberate Marawi from insurgents led by the Maute Group.

But Gunaratna said that since then, the regeneration of Daesh in the Philippines has created an environment for the flow of foreign terrorist fighters into the country. And unless the government immediately addresses the situation, he warned of more attacks like last month’s deadly bombing of the Roman Catholic cathedral on Jolo Island, Sulu province, which also injured more than 100 people.

“The Philippines is facing a new phase of threat influenced by foreign fighters, ideologies, and funding,” Gunaratna said. “Manila needs a new counterinsurgency strategy to restore strategic peace in Mindanao. Otherwise, the progress made to create a Bangsamoro entity (an autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao) will be negated.”

He said the strategy should be to contain, isolate and eliminate the main four Daesh-centric groups identified as posing the greatest terrorism threat to the Philippines.

“They present a long-term threat to the stability to the region. There is no better opportunity than to do so immediately after the Sulu attack,” he added.

Sidney Jones, director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, in Jakarta, backed up Gunaratna’s views.

Jones said it was a mistake to think “that military means could defeat an ideology that has taken root among some groups in Mindanao.” The militants driven from Marawi have remained active, he told Arab News.

Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has already admitted that the country has been monitoring foreign fighters from Malaysia, Indonesia, Morocco, Yemen, and Pakistan who are in Sulu, Basilan, and Central Mindanao. There have also been reports of the presence of a foreign fighter from Singapore and a suspected Egyptian suicide bomber.

Lorenzana said Daesh-linked groups in the Philippines had been actively recruiting foreign fighters, and an intelligence report obtained by Arab News recently also indicated that one commander had been communicating with potential recruits via social media.

The Philippines is working closely with foreign governments, particularly the US, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, in the fight against terrorism, said Lorenzana.

In a forum at the headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Monday, Lorenzana said that the US had been swift to help following the cathedral bombing. “They helped us immediately, but they were (also) helping us track these terrorists even before the bombing,” he added. Singapore had also offered information on possible perpetrators.

Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines are “infested by terrorists,” Lorenzana said. “But we are all in this together and we have agreed to fight this together.” 

Meanwhile, the Philippine National Police (PNP) announced on Monday that one of the main suspects in the Jolo bombing, Kammah Pae, and four others are now in police custody.

Aside from Pae, the four other suspects are all said to be members of the terror cell Ajang Ajang, part of the Abu Sayyaf group.

Unspeakable grief: A husband, wife and three children wiped out in Sri Lanka

Updated 23 April 2019

Unspeakable grief: A husband, wife and three children wiped out in Sri Lanka

  • The Gomez family gather for funeral of a husband and wife and their three sons
  • They were brutally killed as they attended Easter Sunday Mass at Colombo’s St. Joseph’s Shrine

COLOMBO: The dark wooden coffins, sitting side by side, attested to one family’s unspeakable grief.
The Gomez family gathered Tuesday to say a final farewell to five loved ones — a son, a daughter-in-law and three young grandsons — brutally killed as they attended Easter Sunday Mass at Colombo’s St. Joseph’s Shrine.
“All family, all generation, is lost,” said Joseph Gomez, the family patriarch, as tears welled in his eyes. Dozens of family members and neighbors were gathered in his simple home, where the sound of hymns sung by mourners gently wafted in the background and candles flickered beside three coffins. The bodies of two grandsons have yet to be recovered.
Across Sri Lanka, Tuesday was a national day of mourning as families began to lay to rest the more than 320 victims of the bomb blasts that struck a half-dozen churches and hotels in the island nation.
For the Gomez family, the loss was unfathomable: A 33-year-old son, Berlington Joseph, the young man’s 31-year-old wife Chandrika Arumugam, and their three boys, 9-year-old Bevon, 6-year-old Clavon and baby Avon, who would have turned 1 next week. A funeral card with a photo of the family clutched in his hands, the elder Gomez wailed: “I can’t bear this on me, I can’t bear this.”
“My eldest son, my eldest son,” he sobbed as he laid bouquets of red roses and brightly colored daisies on the largest coffin. Next to it was a tiny coffin, a photo of little Avon tucked into a wooden frame nearby.
The coffins, draped with long white tassels, were then carried to a Colombo cemetery and lowered into side-by-side graves.
At St. Joseph’s Shrine, dozens of mourners gathered outside, lighting candles and praying in unison for the victims of Sunday’s blasts as heavily armed soldiers stood guard.
At St. Sebastian Church in Negombo, a funeral service was held Tuesday for victims killed there as they worshipped, led by Cardinal Malcom Ranjith. The church was heavily guarded by hundreds of army, air force and police troops, and soldiers were deployed every 15 feet along the streets of the city some 20 miles north of Colombo.
Throughout the country, people observed a three-minute silence for the victims of the near-simultaneous attacks at three churches and three luxury hotels, and three other related blasts, the deadliest violence to strike Sri Lanka in a decade.
The Sri Lankan government has blamed the attack on National Towheed Jamaar, a little-known local extremist group, and on Tuesday, the Daesh group also claimed responsibility, though it provided no proof it was involved and has made unsubstantiated claims in the past.