Filipino authorities arrest 9 women ‘suicide bombers’

Filipino authorities arrest 9 women ‘suicide bombers’
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Three daughters of a militant group leader killed last year were among those held. (Supplied)
Filipino authorities arrest 9 women ‘suicide bombers’
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The women were captured in raids by Philippine secrity forces on houses in three towns in the predominantly Muslim province of Sulu. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 24 February 2021

Filipino authorities arrest 9 women ‘suicide bombers’

Filipino authorities arrest 9 women ‘suicide bombers’
  • The women were captured in raids on houses in three towns in the predominantly Muslim province of Sulu

MANILA: Filipino authorities have arrested nine women reportedly being groomed as suicide bombers with some belonging to the family of Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, a Daesh-affiliated militant group leader killed in November, the country’s military announced on Tuesday.
The arrests were made during a series of raids in the southern province of Sulu on Friday, said Lt. Gen. Corleto Vinluan, Jr., commander of the Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom).
“Our troops, together with our partners from the Philippine National Police (PNP) and intelligence units, conducted a simultaneous implementation of search warrants in Jolo, Indanan, and Patikul, all of Sulu, at early dawn on Friday.
“This led to the apprehension of nine female potential suicide bombers who are related to some of the notorious leaders and members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG),” he added.
Meanwhile, Joint Task Force-Sulu public affairs officer, Lt. Jerrica Angela Manongdo, told Arab News that the raids were conducted simultaneously before dawn “to prevent the suspects from having the chance to coordinate with each other.”
She said: “The suspects were just in their house, but upon search by the authorities, they discovered bomb components. The raids were simultaneously implemented so the women could not cooperate with each other.”
Seven of the suspects were arrested in the villages of Bangkal and Latih in Patikul town, with three identified as the daughters of Sawadjaan. They were named as Elena Tasum Sawadjaan-Abun (the widow of an ASG sub-leader), 40, Isara Jalmaani Abduhajan, 36, and Jedah Abduhajan-Amin, 28.
The others being held were identified as Sawadjaan’s sister Linda Darun Maruji alias Appuh Yayang, 66, Risa Jalil, the wife of one of Sawadjaan’s nephews, Firdauzia Said alias Firdausia Salvin, the widow of ASG sub-leader Mannul Said, Sharifa Rajani also known as Indah Wida, and Indah Widz, the wife of another ASG member who had also worked under Sawadjaan.
The remainder, arrested in Tulay village, Jolo, were Nudzha Ismani Aslun, also known as Nudz and Akih, 26, the widow of an ASG member, and Nurshahada Isnain alias Dah, 19, the wife of a trusted aide of Mundi Sawadjaan, the reported mastermind of the recent suicide bombings in Sulu.
Officials said another raid was carried out in the town of Indanan, but “the target managed to elude arrest.”
Among items seized from the suspects were bomb components, including push-button switches, small batteries with a snap, blasting caps, suspected ammonium nitrate oil fuel or ANFO, a hand grenade, several identification cards, and a rough sketch of their terror plan.
The women are facing charges of illegal possession of explosives.
Vinluan said that those arrested had been on Wesmincom’s radar as a result of information provided by ASG sub-leaders who had surrendered to the authorities.
“We were tipped off ... that IEDs (improvised explosive devices) were being assembled in the house of the suspects. There were at least three or four houses. Once the IEDs are ready, that’s when the women get indoctrinated to prepare them to conduct suicide bombings.
“The widows and wives are being used because they (ASG) are having a hard time recruiting. It is also harder to detect female suicide bombers, so they use that. We have been monitoring them. The IEDs are with them, so it’s possible they are slowly being oriented,” the commander added.
Joint Task Force-Sulu Commander Maj. Gen. William Gonzales, said: “This is how desperate the remaining terrorists are, willing to sacrifice their families just to get back at government forces.”
He added that Filipino security forces would “exhaust all ... options to put an end to terrorism” in the south.
“May this serve as a clear message to the supporters and remaining members of the Abu Sayyaf Group. We are always ready to welcome those who wish to return to the folds of the law, but if you refuse to do so, we will surely hunt you down and prevent you from inflicting havoc in the communities,” Gonzales said.
Manongdo pointed out that officials were making “headway” in defeating terrorism.
“Remember Operation Perfect Storm operations on Nov. 3, 2020? One of those who died was Mannul, the projected (successor of Hajan) emir (Daesh Philippines). He died in an interdiction operation (at midsea), so his wife, typical of ASG wives, when their husband dies she will take revenge,” she said.
“Because of their extremist ideology, they are willing to do suicide bombings just like in the case of Cici,” she added, referring in part to Indonesian Rezky Fantasya Rullie, the widow of an Indonesian terrorist killed in Jolo. Known as Cici, she was arrested in October.
“If these kinds of acts continue, it will be unfair for the people of Sulu, which is now generally peaceful. Because even if there’s just one incident of bombing, this will affect the image of the military and the province. All other people here except the few terrorists are making efforts to secure the province,” Manongdo said.
The Philippines’ military confirmed in November the death of Sawadjaan who was on the US’ list of global terrorists and named as the mastermind behind the deadly 2019 cathedral bombing which left 23 people dead and 109 injured.
The ASG is a militant group notorious for kidnappings and its pledged allegiance to Daesh. Sulu province, in the country’s Mindanao region, is a known stronghold of the group.


French court convicts ex-president Sarkozy on corruption charges

 French court convicts ex-president Sarkozy on corruption charges
Updated 01 March 2021

French court convicts ex-president Sarkozy on corruption charges

 French court convicts ex-president Sarkozy on corruption charges

PARIS: French court on Monday convicted former president Nicolas Sarkozy on charges of corruption and influence peddling, handing him a three-year prison sentence of which two years are suspended.
Sarkozy was accused of offering to help a judge obtain a senior job in Monaco in exchange for inside information on an inquiry into his campaign finances.
Taking into account the two years suspended, the sentence of one year jail means it is unlikely Sarkozy will physically go to prison, a punishment that in France usually applies to jail terms of above two years.


Queen's husband Prince Philip to have heart tests: palace

Queen's husband Prince Philip to have heart tests: palace
Updated 01 March 2021

Queen's husband Prince Philip to have heart tests: palace

Queen's husband Prince Philip to have heart tests: palace

LONDON: Britain's Prince Philip, the 99-year-old husband of Queen Elizabeth, was transferred to a different hospital in central London on Monday to have tests for a pre-existing heart condition as well as receive treatment for an infection.
"The Duke remains comfortable and is responding to treatment but is expected to remain in hospital until at least the end of the week," Buckingham Palace said in a statement. 


Biden Mideast policy gives Iran free reign to threaten regional security, says analyst

Biden Mideast policy gives Iran free reign to threaten regional security, says analyst
Updated 01 March 2021

Biden Mideast policy gives Iran free reign to threaten regional security, says analyst

Biden Mideast policy gives Iran free reign to threaten regional security, says analyst
  • Pregent says Trump’s order to assassinate Soleimani was a game changer as it restored “deterrence in US foreign policy,”
  • Pregent also stated that as soon as the Biden administration lifted the Iran-backed Houthis from the list of terrorist organizations, the militia attacked Saudi Arabia

DUBAI: United States President Joe Biden’s Middle East policy has given Iran “a clear message” that it could continue its attack on the region and threaten its security, a senior fellow at Hudson Institution told Arab News.

Michael Pregent says the message the Biden administration is sending to Iran is that “you can hit Israel, you can hit Saudi Arabia, you can hit the US mission in Iraq. We are going to do all we can to down play it.”

Pregent was referring to the recent attacks carried out by Iran.

On Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Iran for a blast aboard an Israeli-owned ship in the Gulf of Oman last week.

The MV Helios Ray, a vehicle-carrier ship, was hit overnight by a blast above the water line that a US official said ripped holes in both sides of its hull.

“This was indeed an operation by Iran. That is clear,” Netanyahu told Kan radio.

Pregent also stated that as soon as the Biden administration lifted the Iran-backed Houthis from the list of terrorist organizations, the militia attacked Saudi Arabia.

An attack by the Iran-backed Houthi militia that left a civilian plane ablaze at Saudi Arabia’s Abha airport last month sparked international anger.

More recently, World and Arab leaders condemned drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabia by Houthi militias on Saturday targeting Riyadh and Khamis Mushayt.

In response to these “aggressions and provocations” which Pregent says is out of the “Iranian playbook,” the US is showing that it is not going to stand in Iran’s way.

“All the messages they are hearing from Washington DC is that ‘help is on the way, that economic help is on the way, the lifting of sanctions is on the way,’” Pregent said.

The new administration of President Joe Biden has said it is ready to talk to Iran about both nations resuming compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, which scrapped broad economic sanctions against Iran in return for curbs intended to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons - something Iran says it does not want.

But the parties cannot agree who should make the first move. Iran says the United States must lift sanctions, while Washington says Tehran must return to compliance with the deal, which Iran has been progressively breaching since 2019.


Pregent says the 2015 Iran deal escalated Tehran’s “terrorist capabilities,” in the Middle East and in response Biden said it is going to stop selling “offensive capabilities to the Saudis or the Emiratis” and “down play militia attacks on the US mission in Iraq.”

In December last year, former President Donald Trump blamed Iran for a series of rocket attacks that targeted the US Embassy in Iraq and warned against further aggression.

“Our embassy in Baghdad got hit Sunday by several rockets. Three rockets failed to launch. Guess where they were from: IRAN,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

The Iraqi military blamed “an outlawed group” for the attack, which came weeks before the first anniversary of the assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in a US drone airstrike in Iraq.

Pregent says Trump’s order to assassinate Soleimani was a game changer as it restored “deterrence in US foreign policy,” while Biden, he says, has “restored a permissive environment for Iran.”

During the Barack Obama administration – During which Biden was vice president – Soleimani was told that the US could not strike the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRCG) because the authorized use of military force did not allow it, according to Pregent.

“Trump changed all of that,” he said.  

However, Pregent now states that Iran believes it has “allies in the United States.”

“If you are part of the IRGC it sounds to me like you can do whatever you want for the next four years,” he said.

“I can’t think of a greater offence than to be called an ally of the IRGC,” he added.


Ghana president receives world’s first free Covax jab

Ghana president receives world’s first free Covax jab
Updated 01 March 2021

Ghana president receives world’s first free Covax jab

Ghana president receives world’s first free Covax jab

ACCRA: Ghana's president Nana Akufo-Addo on Monday became the world's first recipient of a coronavirus vaccine from Covax, a global scheme to procure and distribute inoculations for free for poorer countries.
Richer countries have surged ahead with inoculating their population, but many poorer countries are still awaiting their first vaccine doses.
"It is important that I set the example that this vaccine is safe by being the first to have it, so that everybody in Ghana can feel comfortable about taking this vaccine," the 76-year old president said before receiving a shot of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in a live broadcast.
The first lady Rebecca Akufo-Addo also received a shot, one day before the rest of the 600,000 doses are deployed across the country.
Ghana's food and drug authority last month authorised the Indian-made vaccine and Russia's Sputnik V, as the government aims to target 20 of its 30 million population by year's end.
Last Wednesday, Ghana was the first country to receive vaccines from Covax, led by Gavi the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).
Some 145 participating economies are set to receive 337.2 million doses by mid-year -- enough to vaccinate a little over three percent of their combined populations.
Covax has said it hopes to raise the figure to up to 27 percent in lower-income countries by the end of December.
Ghana has recorded 84,023 Covid-19 cases and 607 deaths since the start of the pandemic, although the true figure is believed to be higher because of lack of testing.
Schools reopened in January after a 10-month closure, but large social gatherings are banned and land and sea borders have remained closed since March 2020.
Despite the vaccine roll-out, the president said that all the current restrictions to curb the spread of the virus were to remain in place.


Myanmar’s Suu Kyu seen in court for first time since coup

Myanmar’s Suu Kyu seen in court for first time since coup
Updated 01 March 2021

Myanmar’s Suu Kyu seen in court for first time since coup

Myanmar’s Suu Kyu seen in court for first time since coup
  • Suu Kyi’s appearance came as demonstrators took to the streets again across the country in defiance
  • Suu Kyi, 75, appeared healthy during Monday’s court appearance

YANDON: Ousted Myanmar civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi faced court on Monday via video link, being seen by her lawyer for the first time since a military coup one month ago triggered relentless and massive protests.
Suu Kyi’s appearance came as demonstrators took to the streets again across the country in defiance of an escalation of force from the junta that on Sunday resulted in the deadliest day of unrest since the takeover.
At least 18 people died on Sunday as troops and police fired live bullets at demonstrators in cities across Myanmar, according to the United Nations, which cited its own credible information.
Suu Kyi, 75, appeared healthy during Monday’s court appearance, lawyer Khin Maung Zaw, told AFP by telephone during a break in proceedings.
Suu Kyi was detained in Naypyidaw, the nation’s capital, before dawn on the day of the coup, and had not been since in public since.
She has reportedly been kept under house arrest in Naypyidaw, an isolated city that the military built during a previous dictatorship.
The military has justified its takeover, ending a decade-long democratic experiment, by making unfounded allegations of widespread fraud in last November’s national elections.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won the election in a landslide.
The generals have hit Suu Kyi with two charges the international community widely regards as frivolous — relating to importing walkie talkies and staging a campaign rally during the pandemic.
Monday’s court proceedings were preliminary matters in the case, including with Khin Maung Zaw seeking to formally represent her.


Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to streets regularly over the past month to oppose the coup.
While the military has steadily increased the type of force used to try to contain the uprising, beginning with tear gas and water cannons, this weekend’s violence saw the biggest escalation.
One person was shot while crouching behind rubbish bins and other makeshift shields, and had to be dragged away by others, with the incident filmed by media.
AFP independently confirmed 10 deaths in Sunday’s violence, although there were fears the toll could be much higher.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a reliable monitoring group, estimated that about 30 people had been killed by security forces since the coup on February 1.
On Monday, protests erupted again in multiple cities across the country, with demonstrators in Yangon using bamboo poles, sofas and tree branches to erect barricades across streets.
In one clash broadcast live on Facebook and verified by AFP, unarmed protesters fled after a volley of shots were fired.
It was not immediately clear if the security forces had fired live rounds or rubber bullets.
Hundreds of people were also arrested over the weekend with many in Yangon taken to Insein Prison, where Myanmar’s leading democracy campaigners have served long jail terms under previous dictatorships.
More than 1,100 people have been arrested, charged, or sentenced since the coup, according to The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
One reporter was also shot with rubber bullets on the weekend while covering a protest in the central city of Pyay, their employer said.
Several journalists documenting Saturday’s assaults by security forces were detained, including an Associated Press photographer in Yangon.
“We strongly condemn the escalating violence against protests in Myanmar and call on the military to immediately halt the use of force against peaceful protesters,” Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the UN human rights office, said.
The United States has been one of the most outspoken critics of the junta, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken also reacted with horror after Sunday’s violence.
“We condemn the Burmese security forces’ abhorrent violence against the people of Burma & will continue to promote accountability for those responsible,” Blinken tweeted, using the country’s old name.