Philippine troops kill 40 Abu Sayyaf extremists in south

Updated 11 July 2016
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Philippine troops kill 40 Abu Sayyaf extremists in south

MANILA, Philippines: Philippine troops have killed 40 Abu Sayyaf extremists and wounded 25 others in two battlefronts in the first major counterterrorism offensive in the south under the new president, the military said Monday.
Regional military spokesman Maj. Filemon Tan said 22 militants had been killed and 16 others wounded in the assaults that started last week in the jungles of Sulu, a predominantly Muslim province where the ransom-seeking militants are also believed to be holding a number of foreign hostages.
One soldier had been killed in the fighting in impoverished Sulu, about 590 miles (950 kilometers) south of Manila, he said.
On the nearby island province of Basilan, 18 Abu Sayyaf fighters had been killed and nine others wounded in a simultaneous offensive centering in the town of Tipo Tipo, according to Tan.
The thousands of troops waging the assaults were backed by rocket-firing helicopters and artillery fire.
President Rodrigo Duterte, who started his six-year term on June 30, has warned the Abu Sayyaf to stop a wave of ransom kidnappings, saying he would eventually confront them. His military chief said last week a looming offensive would “shock and awe” the extremists.
While past presidents have regarded Abu Sayyaf militants as bandits thriving on kidnappings for ransom and extortion, Duterte said last week he would not lump them with criminals. “These were the guys who were driven to desperation,” he said.
The militants, however, have shown no sign of heeding Duterte’s call to stop kidnappings, which he said has sullied the country’s image.
Indonesian officials said Monday that suspected Abu Sayyaf gunmen kidnapped three Indonesian fishermen over the weekend off Lahad Datu in the Malaysian part of northern Borneo, the latest among several offshore attacks that have sparked a regional security alarm.
Washington and Manila list the Abu Sayyaf, which has more than 400 armed fighters, as a terrorist organization for deadly bombings, ransom kidnappings and beheadings over the last three decades.


France bans Iran’s Mahan Air for flying arms, troops to Syria, elsewhere

Updated 20 min 11 sec ago
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France bans Iran’s Mahan Air for flying arms, troops to Syria, elsewhere

  • The ban will become effective starting April 1
  • The airlines were also banned by Germany since January

PARIS: France has banned flights in and out of the country by Iran’s Mahan Air, accusing it of transporting military equipment and personnel to Syria and other Middle East war zones, diplomats said on Monday, after heavy US pressure on Paris to act.
The decision to revoke Mahan’s license to operate in France was made after Germany banned the airline in January.
Paris had considered revoking its license more than two years ago under the presidency of Francois Hollande, but had backed down because it feared it could harm relations just after a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers was signed in 2015.
The United States imposed sanctions on Mahan Air in 2011, saying it provided financial and other support to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), and Washington has been pressing its European allies to follow suit.
“We knew of their activities from our own intelligence services and after the German move it was a question of credibility,” said a French diplomatic source.
The French ban on the airline, which had four flights a week to Paris from Tehran, takes effect from April 1. The airline’s website is no longer taking reservations and calls to its offices in Paris were not answered.
Tensions between Paris and Tehran have grown in recent months as President Emmanuel Macron and his government have become increasingly frustrated with Iran’s ballistic missile tests, regional activities and a foiled attack on an Iranian exile group in France, which Paris says Iranian intelligence was behind.
Both countries only reappointed ambassadors to each other’s capitals last month after more than six months without envoys.
There are no plans at this stage to ban another airline — Iran Air — said one diplomat.
Mahan Air, established in 1992 as Iran’s first private airline, has the country’s largest fleet of aircraft and has flights to a number of European countries, including France, Italy, Spain and Greece.
European countries have been under sustained US pressure to reimpose sanctions on Iran since President Donald Trump last year pulled Washington out of an international nuclear non-proliferation treaty reached with Tehran under his predecessor Barack Obama.
Along with Iran, the other signatories to the deal — Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China — are still trying to keep it alive and set up in January a mechanism to allow trade with Tehran and circumvent US sanctions.