Philippines wages high-tech war on terror ‘bad guys’

From left, Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, Philippines' Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Singapore's Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen share a moment before a ministerial roundtable at the 17th International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Shangri-la Dialogue, an annual defense and security forum in Asia, in Singapore on June 3. (AP Photo)
Updated 05 June 2018

Philippines wages high-tech war on terror ‘bad guys’

  • Philippines defense department is boosting its high-tech capabilities to fight terrorism.
  • Facial-recognition technology and bigger drones are among sophisticated tech systems targeting extremists.

MANILA: The Philippines is turning to high-tech defense systems including facial-recognition software and bigger drones to combat terrorism.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has revealed government plans to boost the country’s technological capabilities as part of counterterrorism efforts.

“We are looking at facial-recognition software so that we can easily track down the bad guys,” Lorenzana said in an interview on Tuesday.

The Philippines army has bought ScanEagle drones from the US for use in low-altitude surveillance. US forces stationed in Mindanao are also using small drones with powerful signaling capabilities, he said.

“When our order for bigger drones arrives, it will improve our intelligence capabilities,” he said.

Lorenzana said extremists were also using sophisticated technologies to spread propaganda and gain an advantage in clashes with government forces.

The defense chief said that during the five-month battle in Marawi last year, militants had used drones, which were shot down by Philippine troops.

Terrorists were using technology for recruitment, to plan their movements and to send money.

“During the Marawi siege, my people recommended that we shut down the Internet there because the Mautes inside were sending pictures and messages outside,” he said, referring to the Daesh-inspired group that staged the attack.

Lorenzana agreed that intelligence capabilities “are only as good as the people who manage them and who interpret the data.

“We still need human intelligence, people who go down and see things on the ground with their own eyes and feel what’s happening on the ground so they can report to headquarters,” he said.

The interview with Lorenzana took place in Singapore on the sidelines of the 17th Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia’s leading defense summit.

International security consultant Stephen Cutler praised the Philippine defense department’s plan to upgrade its tech capabilities.

Facial-recognition systems were being used in other countries and were highly effective, he said.

“Say they get pictures of these (militants) with Daesh flags. Even if they’re wearing a bandana across their nose and lower face, facial recognition could theoretically allow us (to identify them). If those guys have already been arrested, we could run a still photo of that camp in the picture (or video) and figure out who’s in the camp.”

Cutler was chief of the Federal Bureau of Investigation operations in the Philippines for five years before retiring after a 22-year career in FBI.

He warned that the government had to establish trust among people that its technology was not being abused.

“That would demand strong adherence to data privacy law. It will demand proven ethical behavior on the part of the government.

“This is an argument that has gone on in every nation around the world that is using this (technology),” he said.

Indonesia targets ‘virus’ of religious radicalization

Indonesia’s Vice President Ma’ruf Amin says the government is on a quest to stop the spread of radicalism. (AN photo by Yudhi Sukma Wijaya)
Updated 25 February 2020

Indonesia targets ‘virus’ of religious radicalization

  • Vice President Ma’ruf Amin shares concern over former Indonesian Daesh members who want to return home
  • There are 600 former jail inmates under observation of national counterterrorism agency BNPT

JAKARTA: The Indonesian government has decided not to repatriate hundreds of citizens who joined Daesh in a bid to counter the rise of radicalization in its society.

President Joko Widodo said on Feb. 12 that the government was prioritizing the security of its 260 million population by reducing their exposure to terrorist attacks from those who had fought for Daesh.
Indonesia has experienced a number of attacks by people linked to militant groups that support Daesh. Recent attacks include a suicide bombing at a police headquarters in November and an attack on the then-chief security minister, Wiranto — a retired general who like many Indonesians uses one name — who was stabbed in the abdomen last October by a man affiliated to a Daesh-supporting network.
Chief Security Minister Mohammad Mahfud MD said that there were 689 people in camps in Syria — most of them women and children — who said they come from Indonesia, based on data provided by the CIA, the the Red Cross and other agencies.
The government will consider on a case-by-case basis whether to repatriate children aged 10 or younger, and based on whether they have parents or are orphaned.
Mahfud said that the government was concerned that if foreign terrorist fighters were repatriated they could become a dangerous new “virus” for the country.
Indonesians who had been repatriated from Syria have to take part in a government-sponsored deradicalization program for a month.
In addition, the national counterterrorism agency BNPT has rolled out deradicalization programs for terror convicts incarcerated in more than 100 correctional facilities. It continues to monitor at least 600 former jail inmates who have served their terms and are undertaking empowerment programs to prevent them from rejoining fellow militants.
Vice President Ma’ruf Amin has been tasked with the responsibility of coordinating efforts to take on radicalization. His credentials as a senior Muslim cleric are expected to carry weight in countering the spread of hardline Islamic teachings.


260m - Total population of Indonesia.

689 - Number of people in Syrian camps who say they are from Indonesia.

600 - Number of inmates under observation of national counterterrorism agency BNPT.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, septuagenarian Amin, who is chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council, although in an inactive capacity, acknowledged his background as a religious figure was the reason why President Widodo assigned him to the task.
“We want to instill a sense of religious moderation and develop a nationalist commitment,” he said.
He added that the government did not want former Daesh members who claimed to be Indonesians bringing “a plague” to the country, becoming “a new source of radicalism” if they were repatriated.
The government uses the term “radical terrorism” to avoid confusion with other types of radicalism.

Hundreds of Indonesians joined Daesh in Syria, to fight against President Bashar Assad. (Getty)

Amin said that prevention and law enforcement were required to combat terrorism. While Indonesia has gained international recognition for its counterterrorism efforts, there remains much to do to curb the spread of radical terrorism, he said.
“If radicalism turns into action, it could become terrorism, so we begin from their way of thinking and we realign their intolerant thoughts, which are the source of radicalism. We deradicalize those who have been exposed,” Amin said.
There are five provinces where the spread of radicalism and terrorism have been particularly being targeted: Aceh, Riau, Central Sulawesi, West Kalimantan and East Java.
Amin said that the government was on a quest to prevent the spread of religious radicalism in Indonesia.
“The cause of terrorism and radicalism could be triggered by religious teachings, the economic situation, injustice, therefore it takes a comprehensive approach from upstream to downstream,” Amin said.
A coordinated approach involves various government agencies and institutions, and begins with early childhood education through to college.
“We want to instill religious moderation, a sense of nationalism and patriotism and introduce Pancasila into early childhood education,” Amin said, referring to the country’s foundation principles.
According to the Global Threat Landscape report issued in January by Singapore’s International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), deradicalization programs targeting women and children are necessary given the growing number of women involved in terrorist activities. The programs need to be different to those provided for male militants.
The report found that family networks which include wives would continue to play a part in militant activities in Indonesia this year. Family units are likely to be involved in future attacks as some pro-Daesh families have indoctrinated their children with its ideology.
Previous attacks have seen women and children involved in attacks such as the suicide bombing in Surabaya targeting churches and a police headquarters in 2018.
Asked if the BNPT efforts have been enough to counter radicalization in Indonesia, Amin said that the program was on track, but in the future the government aimed to have a more focused target supported by cooperation with government agencies.
 “We expect the results would be much better than what has been achieved so far,” he said.