How the Daesh-backed Maute group in Philippines amassed new weapons and $24m in cash

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A file photo of Daesh fighters in control of Marawi streets. (Amaq)
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A file photo shows heavy fighting between the Philippines army and the Daesh-linked Maute militants in Marawi city. (AFP)
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Government troops drive past a marker of Marawi city, southern Philippines. (Reuters)
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Updated 01 October 2017

How the Daesh-backed Maute group in Philippines amassed new weapons and $24m in cash

KUALA LUMPUR/MANILA: Battle continues to rage in Marawi, the only predominately Muslim city in the mainly Catholic Philippines, more than two months since a siege by the Daesh-backed Maute group.
As deaths mount in the fighting and government forces struggle to defeat the enemy, President Rodrigo Duterte has asked Congress to extend martial law on the Island of Mindanao to address a “looming situation.”
A high-ranking government official in the Philippines told Arab News that Maute has an estimated 1.2 billion pesos ($23.7 million) in cash. The group amassed this wealth from the different banks and houses they looted in Marawi, bagging gold and jewelry, as well as from drug money. This information, he said, was confirmed by a military general who is serving in Western Mindanao Command.
The official, who asked not to be named because he is not allowed to speak to media, said the military has drone footage that shows several sacks of money being loaded into a pickup truck. In this footage, he said, you can see one of the sacks falling down from the truck and paper bills scattered. The 1.2 billion pesos estimate was made based on the footage.
The military earlier quoted residents who were held hostage but managed to escape from the Maute group, saying that they were forced to loot from the houses and government buildings in Marawi.
On July 22, 2017, the Philippine Congress granted Duterte’s request to extend martial law on the Southern Island of Mindanao until the end of the year. This gives the military five more months to regain the city of Marawi from Daesh-affiliated fighters.
In seeking to extend the martial law in Mindanao, Duterte said that “public safety requires it,” as he admitted that despite the progress and significant strides achieved by government forces in the Marawi battle, “a lot more” has to be done to bring back safety in the region.
After spending several hours deliberating the president’s request, lawmakers arrived at the decision to approve the motion and extend the period of martial law.
During the session, Lt. Kent Fagyan, a young army officer injured in the Marawi crisis, appeared before members of Congress and recounted the difficulties faced by the military in its offensive against Maute group members in the strife-torn city.
Fagyan notes that the Maute group appears to have “upgraded” its weaponry, logistics and tactics, making it difficult for the military to end the two-month battle for Marawi. “Compared to our previous encounters with the Maute group, this one in Marawi is an upgrade. They … had lots of .50 caliber (rifles), radio frequency scanners, and they seem to have unlimited ammunition,” said Fagyan, who led the 15th Division Reconnaissance Company of the Army’s 1st Infantry Division.
Beside improved weapons and logistics, the Maute group has also improved its fighting tactics, the government official told Arab News. This, he said, is because of seasoned fighters from Daesh who reached Marawi coming from Mosul and Aleppo to join forces with the Philippine militant group.
“They are professionals and experts in urban fighting; they also know how to use IEDs (improvised explosive devices), and among them there are snipers,” the source said.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana confirmed in a press briefing on June 1 that eight foreign militants fighting with Maute group were killed by government troops in Marawi City. Two were from Saudi Arabia, while other members were from Malaysia, Indonesia, Yemen and Chechnya.
A retired Philippine military commander who served in Mindanao told Arab News that these foreign fighters “use the traditional smugglers’ routes” to enter the country. “They use the sea coming from Malaysia or Indonesia. The most common backdoor they use is the Sabah and Tawi-Tawi,” he said.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has acknowledged this problem and the need to intensify the country’s immigration policies.
“We have to tighten and enhance our security measures, as far as immigration is concerned, but on the part of the military and the security sector, there is really a need to enhance the security in our southern backdoor, which is very porous. We need to enhance and intensify maritime patrols,” Gen. Gilbert Gapay, martial law spokesperson for the Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMinCom), recently said. He admitted there is a possibility the foreign fighters entered through the backdoor channel, as well as, seaports and airports.
This has made the battle of Marawi even more difficult according to Defense Secretary Lorenzana, who also said last month that they have “underestimated the strength and capabilities” of the Maute group. Lorenzana said he initially thought government forces could end the Marawi crisis immediately. “In fact I was in Moscow when I heard about it and I thought it will be over in three days,” he said.
Lorenzana’s estimate of how soon the government can end the crisis was revised to one week, and then two weeks. He later decided not to impose a deadline.

          Video by: Provincial Crisis Management Committee (@PCMClanaodelsur)

However, a retired military commander told Arab News that the problem is not with the information, but on the assessment of the information.
“I don’t know if there’s anybody in that office (the Department of National Defense) who has deep understanding of the situation, of what’s happening now in Marawi. Most of the people there now are new,” the source told Arab News.
“What’s important is the assessment of the information. Somebody should be providing the secretary their assessment of the information because that’s where he will base his decisions,” the source added.
Clashes between government forces and the Maute group in Marawi, a city of about 200,000 people, has entered its third month. The latest data released by AFP Public Affairs indicate that a total of 578 people have died in the conflict — 105 government troops, 45 civilians and 428 militants.
“It is serious and it can go out of proportion,” the retired military commander said.
“The biggest danger is if the Filipino militants are able to sustain the united front. Unlike in the case of the MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) and the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) who wanted autonomy, this time the issue is deeper, it is based on religious ideology.
“What is new is that even among them, the Maranao, the Tausug, and the other tribes in Mindanao, it already transcended the tribal boundaries … If (Daesh) can sustain to galvanize and bond the Philippine militants (like Maute, Abu Sayyaf and the rest), then that will be very, very difficult to address,” the source said.
A report, published Thursday (July 20) by the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), said that the crisis in Marawi “is likely to have long-term repercussions for extremism” not only in the Philippines, but in Southeast Asia.
“These could include a higher risk of violent attacks in other Philippine cities and in Indonesia and Malaysia; greater cooperation among Southeast Asian extremists, and new leadership for Indonesian and Malaysian pro-(Daesh) cells from among returning fighters from Marawi,” found the report titled “Marawi, the ‘East Asia Wilayah’ and Indonesia.”
It also said that initial photographs from the strife-torn city released over social media when the crisis broke out showed “smiling fighters” holding guns on top of trucks, and which “seemed to have the same impact as the iconic ISIS victory photos from Mosul in 2014.” ISIS is another term for the Daesh terror group.
The report added: “They generated a shared sense of triumph and strengthened the desire of ISIS supporters in the region to join the battle … Southeast Asian ISIS supporters in Turkey, Syria and Iraq may also see the Philippines as an attractive alternative as ISIS is pushed back in the Middle East.”
Sidney Jones, IPAC director, pointed out that “risks won’t end when the military declares victory.” Jones said that “Indonesia and Malaysia will face new threats in the form of returning fighters from Mindanao, and the Philippines will have a host of smaller dispersed cells with the capacity for both violence and indoctrination.”
The report called for “greater cooperation between Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines in combating extremism.” Supporting Marawi residents who have been displaced and reconstructing the city will held ease ill-feeling among the population and prevent an atmosphere that will lead to “more fertile ground for extremist recruitment,” the report added.


Protests in US put racial discrimination in Canada under scrutiny

Updated 06 June 2020

Protests in US put racial discrimination in Canada under scrutiny

  • Discrimination against Canadian blacks and Arabs ranges from higher unemployment to hate crimes
  • Trudeau’s reputation as a diversity champion was punctured last year by multiple images of him in black makeup

DUBAI: The protests across the US over the death of George Floyd while in police custody have prompted its northern neighbor with a nicer image to acknowledge discrimination within its own borders. Only time will tell, though, whether Canada’s next step will be honest self-searching and concrete action to defend its reputation — especially among Arabs and Muslims — as a fair and tolerant society.

So far, what Canada has mainly shown is that a history of moral posturing greatly diminishes a politician’s ability to provide credible leadership on the problem of anti-black racism. Otherwise, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would not have reacted the way he did during a news conference in Ottawa when asked to comment on US President Donald Trump’s call to use military action as violence and looting eclipsed protests over Floyd’s death.

The former drama teacher paused for 21 seconds, opening his mouth a few times to speak. The pregnant pause caused many to wonder whether Trudeau was making a deliberate point with his silence, fearful of taking on Trump, or he was literally at a loss for words, perhaps recalling his own blackface scandals.

On Friday, Trudeau made a dramatic appearance at a protest in Ottawa (pictured above), where he joined the crowd in kneeling for eight minutes and 46 seconds — which is how long a Minneapolis police officer held down Floyd with his knee on his neck before he died — clapped to chants of “Black lives matter” and collected a T-shirt emblazoned with the same slogan on the front.

Such gestures are perhaps only to be expected of a white politician whose carefully crafted image as a champion of inclusivity and diversity was punctured last year by the appearance of multiple images of him in black makeup, laughing, making faces and sticking his tongue out.

The tradition of brownface and blackface — white people painting their faces darker — was common in North America until it came to be viewed by the turn of the 21st century as a racist caricature. However, systemic inequalities that plague Canada’s black and indigenous communities have proved far more resistant to change.

Last weekend in Toronto, protesters held a rally over the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a black woman who fell to her death last week while police were in her apartment, an incident that is being probed by the province’s Special Investigations Unit.

People who were identified as family and friends of Regis Korchinski-Paquet (no names provided) lead protesters as they march to highlight the deaths in the U.S. of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and of Toronto's Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who died after falling from an apartment building while police officers were present, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada May 30, 2020. (Reuters)

A CBC News investigation of fatal encounters with police found that black people made up 36.5 percent of the deaths involving Toronto police from 2000-2017, while accounting for only 8.3 percent of the city’s population.

Canada is also no stranger to prejudice against Arabs and Muslims. Most recently, some cities’ decision to suspend their noise bylaws during Ramadan to permit mosques to broadcast the sunset call to prayer sparked a backlash, drawing some racist rants on Twitter. 

In 2017, university student Alexandre Bissonnette shot and killed six Muslims in a Quebec City mosque, in what Trudeau called “a despicable act of terror.”

In 2017, university student Alexandre Bissonnette shot and killed six Muslims in a Quebec City mosque. (Facebook)
Montreal mayor Denis Coderre (L-R), Quebec City mayor Regis Labeaume, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pay their respects during a funeral ceremony for three of the victims of the deadly shooting at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre, in Montreal, Quebec on February 2, 2017. (AFP/File Photo)

That year there was a spike in hate crimes reported by police, a 10-year high of 2,073 criminal incidents, according to Statistics Canada.

While the most recent stats show a slight decrease in 2018 to 1,798 incidents, the number was still the second highest of that period.

Of those hate crimes, 44 percent were motivated by race while 36 percent were based on religion.

Then there is a less visible form of systemic discrimination, such as the issue of unemployment among Arabs, Canada’s fastest-growing immigrant population.

ISNA Canada building. (Supplied)

“A lot of people here think that Canada isn’t racist,” Faith Olanipekun, an organizer of a Canadian protest in support of Black Lives Matter, told the CBC, the national public broadcaster, this week.

“So it’s important for us to come out, voice our concerns and let people know that we are suffering in Canada just as much as people in the US are suffering.”

A report last year by the Canadian Arab Institute, a non-partisan research and policy group, showed that based on its analysis of the country’s last census in 2016, the unemployment rate among Arabs was 13.5 percent, higher than the total visible minority population at 9.2 percent.

“That’s more than double the national average, so this is based on 2016 data, very important to note, because with COVID-19 it means it’s going to get much worse,” Shireen Salti, the institute’s interim executive director, told Arab News. 

“We know there are employment barriers. We’re looking into why … Is there discrimination in the labor market, on university campuses etc.? There are some preliminary results from our research that show this, and we want to dive deeper to better understand.”

IN NUMBERS

ARAB CANADIANS

- 947,820 people in Canada reported having Arab ethnic origin.

- 90% reside in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta provinces.

- Highest numbers: Lebanese, Moroccan, Egyptian.

- Over 60% are first generation.

- Over 60% have post-secondary education.

Source: Canadian Arab Institute, based on country’s last census in 2016.

Despite being a highly educated community, she said figures show Arabs’ average annual income is about $33,000, below the national average of $47,000.

“There’s a lot of work that we still need to do to ensure the integration of Arabs in Canada,” said Salti, who was born in Palestine and moved to Canada with her family in 2009.

“There’s a lot of government support in place for newcomers and immigrants, but we need to move beyond that and better understand how to cater to various communities with various inequities.”

While standing in solidarity with black Americans, Salti said the US situation has opened up a window for Canadians to talk about all forms of discrimination.

A man walks past Vancouver's Chinese Cultural Centre, which was targeted with vandalism during the Covid-19 pandemic, prompting police to erect mobile surveillance cameras, on May 21, 2020 in Vancouver, British Columbia. (AFP)

“It’s important to take a moment to pause and listen to the important messages that are being shared right now,” she added.

“We need to be anti-racist in a society where we have multiple communities, and diverse communities, and multiculturalism is literally at the heart of what we do here in Canada.”

Pierre Trudeau, Justin’s father, who was Canada’s prime minister for more than 15 years, had the vision to make the country the first in the world to adopt an official policy of multiculturalism in 1971, later enshrined in law.

This allowed its citizens to preserve their own cultural heritage while being protected from discrimination.

In this file photo Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives on Parliament Hill to attend a sitting of the Special Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic, May 20, 2020 in Ottawa, Canada. (AFP/File Photo)

Justin has had a harder time convincing people that he walks his talk as Canada’s woke leader. He got points for introducing the first gender-balanced Cabinet in the country’s history in 2015, which was also ethnically diverse.

He offered apologies to Canada’s aboriginals for their abuse dating back more than a century, and he welcomed Syrian refugees at the airport with open arms.

Then, while running for re-election last year, two “blackface” photos and a video raised troubling questions about the character of a politician who rose to high office on a platform of social justice, gender equality and indigenous and minority rights.

At the June 2 news conference in Ottawa, Trudeau said he had "spoken many times about how deeply I regret my actions hurt many, many people," before going on to state: “There’s systemic discrimination in Canada, which means our systems treat Canadians of color, Canadians who are racialized, differently than they do others.”

Protesters march to highlight the deaths in the U.S. of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and of Toronto's Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who died after falling from an apartment building while police officers were present, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada May 30, 2020. (Reuters)

Not everyone was impressed. Jagmeet Singh, the outspoken leader of Canada’s NDP Party, said Trudeau’s government could immediately take actions that “go beyond the pretty words of a prime minister who says that he cares.”

Trudeau’s own cabinet minister, Ahmed Hussen, a Somali Canadian, was more specific: He lamented that black Canadians were disproportionately followed in stores by shop owners fearing theft, while black drivers had every reason to be anxious when they are pulled over by a police officer.

Racism is “a lived reality for black Canadians,” Hussen said, as he urged other Canadians to “step up” and “raise your voices and ensure that real inclusion accompanies the diversity of our country.”

The mood in Canada’s black, indigenous and immigrant communities was perhaps summed up best by Salti, of the Canadian Arab Institute, thus: “Now more than ever, we hope that all our political leaders and elected officials will do more than simply pay lip service, and instead act and invest in strategies that promote an inclusive, integrated and fully respectful society for all Canadians.”