Philippine police arrest mole identified as Abu Sayyaf Group member

Philippine police arrest mole identified as Abu Sayyaf Group member
Arrested Abu Sayyaf Group’s logistics liaison officer, Masckur Adoh Patarasa, is presented to PNP Chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar in Zamboanga City. (PNP)
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Updated 03 August 2021

Philippine police arrest mole identified as Abu Sayyaf Group member

Philippine police arrest mole identified as Abu Sayyaf Group member
  • Patarasa was brother-in-law of slain terrorist leader Isnilon Hapilon

MANILA: Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar ordered an “intensified cleansing” of police ranks on Monday after a civilian personnel member was identified as a key member of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).

In a statement, Eleazar said that police intelligence operatives arrested Masckur Adoh Patarasa, also known as “Makong” and “Omair Sali Taib,” on Friday in Jolo, Sulu.

According to the PNP chief, Patasar is the brother-in-law of the slain Daesh leader in Southeast Asia, Isnilon Hapilon, and an alleged finance and logistics officer of the ASG, considered the most violent militant group in the southern Philippines.

“Patarasa is an active non-uniformed personnel (NUP) of the PNP presently assigned at the Banguingui municipal police station, Sulu PPO, but was also a finance and logistics liaison officer of Dawlah Islamiyah and ASG and was included in the martial law arrest order no. 1 during the Marawi siege in 2017,” Eleazar said.

“Patarasa was arrested in Barangay Asturias, Jolo, Sulu at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, July 30, during an intelligence-driven police operation ... He is the subject of arrest warrants ... as an accused in seven separate cases of kidnapping and serious illegal detention,” he added.

Intelligence information on the suspect showed that “in May 2017, Patarasa, together with an unidentified individual linked with the ASG, planned to transact the sending of funds to Abu Sayyaf members fighting in Marawi City through his brother-in-law Isnilon Hapilon.”

Hapilon, also known as Abu Abdullah Al-Filipini, and named on the US’ most wanted list, was killed during the Marawi siege.

At that time, he was reported to be the Daesh emir or commander in the Philippines.

Eleazar said that Patarasa joined the ASG in 2001 under Khadaffy Janjalani in Basilan and later worked for ASG senior leader Radullan Sahiron in Sulu.

He was also reported to have direct contact with Malaysian terrorist Amin Baco, alias “Abu Jihad,” who was among those touted to have replaced Hapilon as the Daesh leader in the region.

“Deeper background investigation also disclosed that Patarasa received funds from Almaida Salvin, a designated terrorist included in the US Treasury’s sanctions list ... through (one) Merhama Sawari,” the PNP chief said without providing more details.

Salvin was arrested in Zamboanga City in April 2019 for the illegal possession of explosives, while Sawari was among four militants killed in a shootout with police in Paranaque City on June 20 last year.

Eleazar said that they were not discounting the possibility that Patarasa may have leaked information to the ASG, resulting in the failure of some police operations in Sulu.

“I am glad that our personnel were able to arrest the subject person; this still forms part of the intensified cleanliness policy that we are implementing. Cleanliness of the ranks should be maintained to regain the trust and confidence of the people in our organization,” Eleazar said.

He also ordered the PNP Internal Affairs Service (IAS) to fast-track dismissal proceedings against the suspect.

Further investigations are also being conducted to determine if other PNP personnel have links to the ASG or are involved in criminal or terroristic activities.

“We would also like to find out how Patarasa managed to enter the PNP despite having a string of cases and warrants of arrest under his name in connection with his being a member of the ASG,” Eleazar said, noting that intelligence information showed the suspect continued to carry out his role in the ASG while employed with the PNP.

Citing Patarasa’s case, Eleazar stressed the importance of cleansing the police ranks at the start or during the recruitment process. “This is one of the reasons why we thoroughly have to screen those who want to join the PNP, whether as a policeman or as a civilian employee.”

Eleazar commended police officers involved in Patarasa’s arrest, saying, “Your action is a reflection of our campaign to keep the organization free from persons with ill motives.”

He also urged all PNP members “to join hands in keeping the police organization respectable and true to its mandate to serve and protect the people.”


US-French spat seems to simmer down after Biden-Macron call

US-French spat seems to simmer down after Biden-Macron call
Updated 53 min 43 sec ago

US-French spat seems to simmer down after Biden-Macron call

US-French spat seems to simmer down after Biden-Macron call
  • Biden and Macron agreed “that the situation would have benefitted from open consultations among allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our European partners”

PARIS: The most significant rift in decades between the United States and France seemed on the mend Wednesday after French President Emmanuel Macron and President Joe Biden got on the phone Wednesday to smooth things over.
In a half-hour call that the White House described as “friendly,” the two leaders agreed to meet next month to discuss the way forward after the French fiercely objected when the US, Australia and Britain announced a new Indo-Pacific defense deal last week that cost the French a submarine contract worth billions.
The White House made a point of releasing a photograph of Biden smiling during his call with Macron.
In a carefully crafted joint statement, the two governments said Biden and Macron “have decided to open a process of in-depth consultations, aimed at creating the conditions for ensuring confidence.”
So did Biden apologize?
White House press secretary Jen Psaki sidestepped the question repeatedly, allowing that Biden did acknowledge “there could have been greater consultation.”
“The president is hopeful this is a step in returning to normal in a long, important, abiding relationship that the United States has with France,” she said.
The call suggested a cooling of tempers after days of outrage from Paris directed at the Biden administration.
In an unprecedented move, France last week recalled its ambassadors to the United States and Australia to protest what the French said amounted to a stab in the back by allies. As part of the defense pact, Australia will cancel a multibillion-dollar contract to buy diesel-electric French submarines and acquire US nuclear-powered vessels instead.
It was clear there is still repair work to be done.
The joint statement said the French ambassador will “have intensive work with senior US officials” upon his return to the United States.
Biden and Macron agreed “that the situation would have benefitted from open consultations among allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our European partners,” the statement said.
Biden reaffirmed in the statement “the strategic importance of French and European engagement in the Indo-Pacific region.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, during a visit to Washington, didn’t mince words in suggesting it was time for France to move past its anger over the submarine deal, saying French officials should “get a grip.” Using both French and English words, he added they should give him a “break.”
Johnson said the deal was “fundamentally a great step forward for global security. It’s three very like-minded allies standing shoulder-to-shoulder, creating a new partnership for the sharing of technology.”
“It’s not exclusive. It’s not trying to shoulder anybody out. It’s not adversarial toward China, for instance.”
Psaki declined to weigh in on whether Johnson’s comments were constructive at a moment when the US was trying to mend relations with France.
The European Union last week unveiled its own new strategy for boosting economic, political and defense ties in the vast area stretching from India and China through Japan to Southeast Asia and eastward past New Zealand to the Pacific.
The United States also “recognizes the importance of a stronger and more capable European defense, that contributes positively to transatlantic and global security and is complementary to NATO,” the statement said.
No decision has been made about the French ambassador to Australia, the Elysee said, adding that no phone call with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was scheduled.
Earlier Wednesday, Macron’s office had said the French president was expecting “clarifications and clear commitments” from Biden, who had requested the call.
French officials described last week’s US-UK-Australia announcement as creating a “crisis of trust,” with Macron being formally notified only a few hours beforehand. The move had prompted fury in Paris, with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian calling it a “stab in the back.”
France’s European Union partners agreed Tuesday to put the dispute at the top of the bloc’s political agenda, including at an EU summit next month.
Following the Macron-Biden call, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met in New York with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell as the administration worked to repair the damage done to broader EU-US relations by the deal.
Blinken spoke of the need for trans-Atlantic cooperation on any number issues “quite literally around the world, to include of course Afghanistan and the Indo-Pacific and Europe and beyond.”
Borrell, taking note of the phone call, said he hoped to be able to “build a stronger confidence among us following the conversation that had been taking place this morning between President Biden and President Macron. I’m sure we’ll be working together.”
The French presidency categorically denied a report by Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper published on Wednesday saying Macron could offer the country’s permanent seat on the UN Security Council to the European Union if the bloc backs his plans on EU defense.
Psaki echoed Johnson’s point that the creation of the new security alliance — which has been dubbed AUKUS — wasn’t meant to freeze out other allies on Indo-Pacific strategy.
“During the conversation, the president reaffirmed the strategic importance of France — French and European nations I should say — in the Indo-Pacific region,” Psaki said.
The deal has widely been seen as part of American efforts to counter a more assertive China in the Indo-Pacific region.


Taliban face uphill battle in efforts to speak at UN meeting

Taliban face uphill battle in efforts to speak at UN meeting
Updated 22 September 2021

Taliban face uphill battle in efforts to speak at UN meeting

Taliban face uphill battle in efforts to speak at UN meeting
  • Taliban are challenging the credentials of the ambassador from Afghanistan’s former government and asking to speak at the UN General Assembly
  • In cases of disputes over seats at the United Nations, the General Assembly’s nine-member credentials committee must meet to make a decision

UNITED NATIONS: The new rulers of Afghanistan have an uphill battle in their efforts to be recognized in time to address other world leaders at the United Nations this year.
The Taliban are challenging the credentials of the ambassador from Afghanistan’s former government and asking to speak at the General Assembly’s high-level meeting of world leaders this week, according to a letter sent to the United Nations.
The decision now rests with a UN committee that generally meets in November and will issue a ruling “in due course,” the General Assembly’s spokeswoman said Wednesday.
UN officials are confronting this dilemma just over a month after the Taliban, ejected from Afghanistan by the United States and its allies after 9/11, swept back into power by taking over territory with surprising speed as US forces prepared to withdraw from the country at the end of August. The Western-backed government collapsed on Aug. 15.
In cases of disputes over seats at the United Nations, the General Assembly’s nine-member credentials committee must meet to make a decision. Letters from Afghanistan’s currently recognized UN ambassador, Ghulam Isaczai, who represents the former government, and from Taliban Foreign Minister Ameer Khan Muttaqi, are before the committee, assembly spokeswoman Monica Grayley said.
“Only the committee can decide when to meet,” Grayley said.
The committee’s members are the United States, Russia, China, Bahama, Bhutan, Chile, Namibia, Sierra Leone and Sweden.
Afghanistan is listed as the final speaker of the ministerial meeting on Monday, Sept. 27, and if there no decision by then, Isaczai, Afghanistan’s currently recognized UN ambassador, will give the address.
When the Taliban last ruled from 1996 to 2001, the UN refused to recognize their government and instead gave Afghanistan’s seat to the previous, warlord-dominated government of President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was killed by a suicide bomber in 2011. It was Rabbani’s government that brought Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of 9/11, to Afghanistan from Sudan in 1996.
The Taliban have said they want international recognition and financial help to rebuild the war-battered country. But the makeup of the new Taliban government poses a dilemma for the United Nations. Several of the interim ministers — including Muttaqi — are on the UN’s so-called blacklist of international terrorists and funders of terrorism.
Credentials committee members could also use Taliban recognition as leverage to press for a more inclusive government that guarantees human rights, especially for girls who were barred from going to school during their previous rule, and women who weren’t able to work.
The Taliban said they were nominating a new UN permanent representative, Mohammad Suhail Shaheen, the UN spokesman said. He has been a spokesman for the Taliban during peace negotiations in Qatar.


Pakistani tabla ‘czars’ pay tribute to Saudi Arabia with rendition of national anthem

Pakistani tabla ‘czars’ pay tribute to Saudi Arabia with rendition of national anthem
Updated 22 September 2021

Pakistani tabla ‘czars’ pay tribute to Saudi Arabia with rendition of national anthem

Pakistani tabla ‘czars’ pay tribute to Saudi Arabia with rendition of national anthem
  • Riyan, 11, and Isaac, 9, spent two months perfecting the South Asian-style performance as their ‘gift’ to the Kingdom

ISLAMABAD: Two young Pakistani musicians who have gone viral in recent years for their tabla skills and are popularly known as the “Czar Brothers” have paid tribute to the founder of Saudi Arabia by singing the Kingdom’s national anthem to the beat of the classical Indian drum.

A video of the performance is to be released on Saudi Arabia’s National Day, which falls on Sept. 23 each year and marks the 1932 renaming of the Kingdom of Nejd and Hejaz to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by the royal decree of King Abdulaziz.

Riyan, 11, and Isaac, 9, were encouraged by their father, Dr. Shehrezad Zaar, to start learning the words of the anthem and to practice playing it on the tabla at the beginning of this year. Zaar is of Russian ancestry on his father’s side and prefers to spell his sons’ surname as Czar.

“We were a bit shocked when our music instructor asked us to sing the anthem in Arabic,” Riyan told Arab News in an interview this week.

“It was midnight when I wrote down the verses of the Saudi anthem and started memorizing them. It took me a few weeks to commit them to my memory, though the accent required more practice.”

Riyan said that it took the duo two months to get the rhythm and pace of the anthem in sync on the tabla and perfect their vocals. “When the two things synchronized, we felt that we were soaking up Saudi culture,” he said.

The boys’ father, a Lahore-based medical professional, said the performance was “a gift from the people of Pakistan to the people of Saudi Arabia.”

“We decided to dedicate it to King Abdulaziz, the father of the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” he told Arab News in an interview, adding that he wanted his children to perform the anthem since the Kingdom occupied a special place in the hearts of Muslims across the world. 

Saudi Ambassador to Pakistan Nawaf bin Said Al-Malki is presenting a souvenir in Islamabad on September 21, 2021, to Pakistani brothers Riyan and Isaac Czar who sang the Saudi national anthem on local instruments and dedicated it to King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud. (Photo courtesy: Dr. Shehrezad Zaar)

The performance was conceived as part of a broader project that Zaar has been working on. He explained that the project, known as the “Imran Khan Leadership Institute of the Founding Fathers of the World,” will see his sons perform the national anthems of various countries with the aim of highlighting the leadership qualities of their respective founding fathers.

The institute has already compiled a booklet on the lives of 93 historical personalities from different countries.

For the musical composition of the Saudi anthem, Zaar consulted with Rustam Fateh Ali Khan, a scion of the famous Patiala Gharana, a school of Indian classical music. Khan is also the music teacher for Zaar and his sons.

Speaking to Arab News, Khan said it was his idea to render the anthem on the tabla, saying the entire team had worked on the project with “love and dedication.”

“It is the first time the Saudi anthem has been sung in a traditional South Asian style,” he said. “No one has ever done it before.”

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s special assistant on the Middle East and interfaith harmony, Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi, said the project reflected the love of the Pakistani people for the Kingdom and its leadership.

“This is a beautiful gift from the Pakistani people on the occasion of the Saudi National Day,” he said. “It shows the love and affection of our people for the Kingdom.”

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Philippines’ Duterte renews call to abolish kafala system

Philippines’ Duterte renews call to abolish kafala system
Updated 22 September 2021

Philippines’ Duterte renews call to abolish kafala system

Philippines’ Duterte renews call to abolish kafala system
  • While Saudi Arabia has scrapped the controversial labor laws, Duterte says millions of OFWs continue to work in ‘unjust’ and ‘inhumane’ conditions elsewhere

MANILA: Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has renewed his call for the abolition of the kafala or sponsorship system in Gulf countries, saying it was “unjust” and permits the “exploitation” of millions of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

 In his speech at the 76th UN General Assembly on Wednesday, Duterte, who has advocated against the kafala system at the UN for much of his career, maintained that “nothing can justify its continued existence.”

The kafala gives employers in GCC countries plus Jordan and Lebanon almost complete control over migrant workers’ employment and immigration status and generally binds them to one employer.

 In 2009, Bahrain became the first GCC country to abolish the kafala system, followed by Saudi Arabia earlier this year.

 “Millions of Filipinos work abroad under the most difficult and inhumane circumstances. We call for the abolition of all structures that allow the exploitation and oppression of migrant workers,” Duterte said.

 “The kafala system is one such behemoth that chains the weak, the desperate, and the voiceless to an existence of unimaginable suffering. While reforms have been made, the kafala system must be dismantled — sooner rather than later — in the name of justice and basic decency,” he added.

 Under the controversial system, migrant workers must have a sponsor in the host country for a visa or worker’s permit to be issued.

 Duterte has previously said that the system led to “inhumane working conditions, nonpayment of wages, movement restrictions, healthcare denial, and sexual abuse of overseas Filipino workers.”

 In March, the Philippines welcomed the Kingdom’s move to end the notorious sponsorship system and replace it with new measures to ensure migrant workers in the private sector have improved job mobility and can switch jobs or leave Saudi Arabia without their employers’ consent.

The labor reforms will also allow OFWs to apply directly for government services, with all employment contracts documented online.

Dexter Garcia, a former OFW who spent a decade working as an office staff member with the Saudi Turf Company, returned to the Philippines in November last year, a few months before the Kingdom’s new laws became effective on March 14.

He said while he had “heard many stories of abuse, that was all in the past.”

“Before I left the Kingdom after my contract with my company ended last year, things were already starting to change. The Saudi government was already starting to relax the kafala,” he told Arab News.

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs, as of January 2020, there are an estimated 2,221,448 Filipinos in the Middle East.


COVID-19 llama treatment shows positive signs

COVID-19 llama treatment shows positive signs
Updated 22 September 2021

COVID-19 llama treatment shows positive signs

COVID-19 llama treatment shows positive signs
  • Spray uses “nanobodies” produced by llamas, camels when they get an infection
  • Immunologist: “It’s very promising” and “exciting”

LONDON: A treatment derived from a llama has shown great promise in the fight against COVID-19. 

The product is a treatment made of “nanobodies,” which are simpler versions of antibodies, produced by llamas and camels when they get an infection.

Scientists have said it could be transformed into a simple nasal spray to treat early COVID-19 infection.

Prof. James Naismith described nanobodies as “fantastically exciting,” saying COVID-19-infected rodents treated with the spray had totally recovered within six days.

Public Health England has said it is looking at the “most effective SARS-CoV-2 neutralising agents” it has ever tested, and it could be used in human tests soon. 

The virus-specific nanobodies can attach to viruses and bacteria that invade the human body. It acts as a form of warning, allowing the rest of the body’s immune system to prepare to destroy the nascent infection. 

These nanobodies found by the UK researchers in llamas were shown to bind particularly tightly. “That’s where we had some help from Fifi the llama,” said Naismith.

Fifi was vaccinated with a tiny, non-infectious piece of the viral protein. The researchers then recovered and isolated the strongest nanobodies in a sample of the llama’s blood. 

From the sample of the potent nanobodies, the researchers were able to grow large quantities of its best molecules.

Prof. Sheena Cruickshank, an immunologist from the University of Manchester, said the new development is “exciting but still quite early.”

She added: “We need more data on efficacy and safety before we move to human trials. However it’s very promising nonetheless, and the fact it may be cheaper and easier to administer is a plus.

“COVID-19 will be, unfortunately, with us for a while yet, so more treatments will be needed.”

Naismith said: “Not all of the world is being vaccinated at the same speed. And there remains a risk of new variants capable of bypassing vaccine immunity emerging.”