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.

Malaysia’s police chief: Daesh fighters ‘must be allowed to come back’

Updated 48 sec ago

Malaysia’s police chief: Daesh fighters ‘must be allowed to come back’

  • Many Malaysians believe that the Daesh returnees will pose a threat to national security and should not be allowed to return
  • Malaysia claims that its deradicalization program is one of the most successful in the world — a model for the fight against terrorism and religious extremism

KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian government has still to decide whether a reported 40 Daesh members of Malaysian origin — including women and children — should be allowed to return to their homeland from Syria. But the Inspector-General of Police of Malaysia Abdul Hamid Bador told Arab News on Thursday, “They are Malaysians and the must be allowed to come back.”
Bador stressed that any returning Daesh members would be charged under Malaysia’s Security Offenses Act and would have to undergo the country’s deradicalization program. But while many Malaysians are opposed to allowing the hard-line militants to return home, Bador said, “As a sovereign nation, Malaysia must fulfill her international obligations. We will undertake the responsibility of subjecting all of them to our rehabilitation programs.”
At a press conference on Saturday, Malaysia’s Special Branch Anti-Terrorist Division principal assistant director Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay said that Daesh returnees would undergo rehabilitation, which would include counseling for the children.
Many Malaysians believe that the Daesh returnees will pose a threat to national security and should not be allowed to return.
“In principle, they are the citizens (of Malaysia), so they have a right to come back,” Dr. James Dorsey, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University and senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute, told Arab News. “But, in having to fulfill that obligation, obviously the question arises whether or not they broke the law, and to what degree they pose a threat.”
Dorsey warned that “not all deradicalization programs are 100-percent effective,” but said he believed that rehabilitation would enable people to reenter society to some degree.
“The assumption is that they went to Syria to fight, so now that Syria is no longer available they are going to come home to fight. But we don’t know that for a fact,” he said. “That may be true for some, but not for others. It is really going to be a question of evaluating every single one. We need to deal with each of them differently. Sending them to rehabilitation might be one way to resolve this.”
“There are no magic tricks involved in the programs,” Bador said to Arab News. Their success, he said, depended on coordination between the police, the religious department, and prison officers. “We are also thankful that the prisoners themselves have the willpower to return to society,” he added.
Malaysia claims that its deradicalization program is one of the most successful in the world — a model for the fight against terrorism and religious extremism, in which religious institutions play an equally important role during the rehabilitation process.
“Malaysia prides itself to having achieved a 97 percent success rate which indicates that occurrences of recidivism are minimal,” said Muhammad Sinatra, an analyst at Malaysia’s Institute of Strategic and International Studies.
He told Arab News that Daesh returnees would serve time in prison, and would —  along with the women and children — be enrolled in a month-long rehabilitation program by the government.
“The women and children must have suffered from witnessing horrendous violence and losing their loved ones during their time in Syria and Iraq,” Sinatra said. “This is on top of the physical toll that years spent in conflict zones will have taken. It will take a tremendous effort by psychologists and doctors to address the physical and mental issues these returnees face.”
Sinatra added that it is imperative that the government hear testimonies from current Daesh prisoners — or preferably those who have been released — about the effectiveness of the rehabilitation program in order to obtain a more holistic picture of its success.