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

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.”


Internet retailers ‘colonizing’ India: Trade body

Updated 40 min 4 sec ago

Internet retailers ‘colonizing’ India: Trade body

  • The trade body’s calls for government intervention follow a major protest by traders demanding strict regulation of online giants

NEW DELHI: India’s leading trade body has accused global e-commerce giants of relying on “unfair trade practices and predatory pricing” amid demands for tougher regulation of online retailers.

Amazon, Flipkart and Walmart are among digital retailers targeted by the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), which warned the country is being “colonized” by e-commerce. 

In a petition to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the trade body said digital retailers “are bravely violating the FDI (foreign direct investment) policy of the government by indulging in all kinds of unethical and unfair business practices.”

It accused online retail giants of “offering deep discounts, indulging in predatory pricing, controlling inventory, having exclusivity of products and maintaining preferential seller system.” 

Vipin Ahuja, president of CAIT’s New Delhi chapter, told Arab News: “We are in favor of online business, but some of the big foreign online companies are hell-bent on destroying shop owners across India. They are selling products with heavy discounts, and offline traders are suffering huge losses.”  

He likened the situation to India’s colonization.

“The British East India Company colonized India in the 17th century after entering the country as a trader. Now these foreign traders are doing the same. The e-commerce giants have huge debts, yet they pump money into India and harm local traders with their deep pockets,” Ahuja said.

The trade body’s calls for government intervention follow a major protest by traders demanding strict regulation of online giants.

On Nov. 20, after Diwali, a major festival in the Indian calendar, more than 700 traders gathered in the heart of the capital “calling for regulation against Amazon, Walmart and other companies.”

The retailers said they had lost market share to big online traders during the peak festival season in October and November.

Another protest has been called for Dec. 12, with businessmen from around the country expected to participate.

India has 70 million retail traders who control more than 80 percent of the market. Traders traditionally support Modi’s ruling Bhartiya Janata Party.

Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal issued a warning in October that “e-commerce companies have no right to offer discounts or adopt predatory pricing.”

New Delhi tightened regulations for online retailers last year, forcing companies such as Amazon and Walmart to restructure their businesses and withdraw some sale items.

Amazon and Walmart said last week that their “operations comply with Indian law, and that they act only as a third-party marketplace.”

An Amazon spokesperson said the company is “a third-party marketplace where sellers offer their products to customers for sale and have the complete discretion to decide what products to sell and at what prices.”

Amazon India has 550,000 sellers, including micro, small and medium enterprises, and the company has “enabled exports of over $1 billion, helping to create more than 20,000 millionaires in 2019, and almost 200,000 jobs,” the spokesperson said.

Ashish Gupta a mobile phone trader in Noida, a New Delhi suburb, blamed online traders after he was forced to close his shop following two years of losses.

“The kind of discounts that e-commerce companies have been offering is mind-boggling. As a retailer, I cannot think of offering 60 percent off a mobile phone,” he said.

“I invested close to $45,000 in my shop, but that money has gone down the drain,” he told Arab News.

With the Indian economy struggling, losses suffered by retailers have led to rising unemployment.

“Shop owners employ large numbers of people and if their business is under threat then these jobs are also under threat,” Prof. Arun Kumar, an economist at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, said.

He said regulation is needed “to save shopkeepers from predatory pricing.”

“Only better-off consumers are benefiting. Poorer people are not into online shopping as they don’t have the Internet and other facilities,” he said.

“This is malpractice. You have deep pockets and you can drive out competition. The benefit that the consumers are getting is short-lived. Once local shops are driven out, then the e-commerce giants will raise their prices.”