Philippines: Martial law is the answer to Mindanao’s problems (And Other Untruths)

May 25, 2017

Martial law untruths
/ 12:28 AM May 26, 2017

A nation’s thoughts turn to Marawi City, even as fears about the possible consequences of the declaration of martial law rise in the hearts of many. These fears are not, as some Mindanao-based supporters of President Duterte claim, shared only by people from Luzon; one of the first  to issue a statement against the President’s declaration was a group based in Davao City. The first legal challenge against the declaration might come from a group of Muslim lawyers. For the exact same reason that Mindanawons came together to donate to the victims of Supertyphoon Yolanda in Leyte and other provinces in the Visayas in 2013, Filipinos from all over the country care about the imposition of martial law in Mindanao in 2017.

That is the first untruth we must all resist: That martial law in Mindanao is of concern only to the people of Mindanao. To be blunt, this kind of thinking is un-Filipino.

The second untruth: That those who have expressed or are beginning to express their concerns about the declaration of martial law in Mindanao do not care about the very real problems exposed by the fighting in Marawi City, or the large-scale problems that persist in Mindanao. We share the view of many who fully support military action against the Abu Sayyaf and the Maute Group, whether they are part of the Islamic State or mere sympathizers. The new clan-based Maute Group is similar to the Abu Sayyaf: They pretend to be motivated by religion, but are in fact mere bandits using terroristic means. Their campaign to become an official part of the IS is to provide them religious and ideological cover. The government must pursue these bandits and terrorists to the very ends of the earth, to see that justice is done.

The long-standing problems of Mindanao trace their roots to two historical aberrations: the centuries-long marginalization of the lumad and the Muslim people, and the massive Christian resettlement program in the mid-20th century. The result has been stark: Continuing poverty for many in the so-called Promised Land, a revitalized communist insurgency and a Moro secessionist movement, exploitation of the island’s rich resources, lack of adequate participation in national decision-making. We join the many who see the first Mindanawon presidency as an opportune time to finally begin to resolve these problems.

But martial law in the whole of Mindanao is not and cannot be the whole answer.  To pursue the bandits/terrorists, the President has already all the power he needs: a constitutional mandate to “call out such armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion,” without declaring martial law; widespread political support for a war against the Abu Sayyaf and the Maute Group; a military motivated and equipped to do battle.

The contradictions in the rationale for imposing martial law in all of Mindanao are clear: The idea, for instance, that martial law would allow government agents to perform warrantless arrests wholesale is contrary to the Constitution’s own assurance. It was left to the Department of National Defense to issue a “Guidance” to the AFP, which included a reminder that “any arrest, search and seizure executed or implemented … should comply with the Revised Rules of Court and applicable jurisprudence.”

The President also identified a handful of provinces where a nightly curfew may be imposed; if the threat is limited to these provinces, why impose martial law on the entirety of the country’s second-biggest island?

The third untruth then that we must all resist: Martial law is the answer to Mindanao’s problems. Rather, these can only be fully addressed if all of us — government, civil society, the business community, each citizen in our individual capacities — join forces and work together.

The fourth untruth: The notion that martial law can be used to solve criminality in Mindanao. The Constitution provides only two situations that allow for the declaration of martial law: invasion or rebellion. Those who justify the imposition of martial law in the whole of Mindanao as a means to help fight crime are not only going against the Constitution;  like Ferdinand Marcos, they are using martial law to meet unconstitutional ends. Marcos imposed martial rule in part “to reform society,” a purpose not found in the martial law provisions. From painful experience we learned that by reform he meant rape.

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Lorenzana said the confrontation opened Tuesday afternoon, when government forces attempted to arrest a senior leader of the Abu Sayyaf Group, an extremist organization with ties to the Islamic State. They had learned Isnilon Hapilon was in the area, but according to Lorenzana, the military had not expected him to be backed up by “more or less 100 fighters” — many of whom were members of another ISIS-linked organization, the Maute Group.

More than 100 gunmen responded to the raid by burning buildings and conducting other diversionary tactics, officials said, adding that thousands of residents have fled Marawi.

 (with links to related reports)


Hezbollah Says Saudi on Path to More Bloodshed in Iran Struggle

May 25, 2017


MAY 25, 2017, 2:45 P.M. E.D.T.

BEIRUT — The Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah said on Thursday Saudi Arabia was on a losing path to more bloodshed in its struggle with Iran and instead urged Riyadh to seek dialogue and negotiations with Tehran.

Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Iran-backed group, said Riyadh aimed to pull the United States into its conflict with Tehran after a summit where President Donald Trump signaled firm backing for Saudi Arabia while criticizing Iran.

Image result for Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah,

Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah

Nasrallah’s group is designated as a terrorist organization by the United States.

“I advise Saudi to set aside struggle, hatred and war. Your only solution for the sake of all Muslims, the whole region … is dialogue with Iran and to negotiate with Iran,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech.

“This path you are taking will only lead to spending billions more dollars and spilling more blood and you will be the ones who lose. You will fail,” he said.

Rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran is fuelling conflicts across the region, including the war in Syria where Hezbollah’s powerful armed wing has played a critical role fighting in support of President Bashar al-Assad.

Speaking at the Riyadh summit, Trump said the Iran was responsible for instability in the region and was funding, arming and training militias that spread destruction and chaos.

Trump signed a $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia during his visit.

Trump’s policy marks a repudiation of the regional policy of his predecessor Barack Obama, whose administration held the first direct talks with Tehran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Although Washington and Tehran were still a long way from normalizing their relations, Obama reached an accord to lift sanctions in return for Iran curbing its nuclear program, which Trump condemned as “the worst deal ever signed”.

Nasrallah said the goal of the Riyadh summit was to convince the United States “to intervene in direct confrontation” with “Iran and the resistance axis” – a reference to an Iran-backed regional alliance including Hezbollah.

Hezbollah was founded in 1982 by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards to fight Israeli forces that had invaded Lebanon. Nasrallah was speaking on the anniversary of Israel’s 2000 withdrawal from southern Lebanon.

Tensions have climbed in recent months between Israel and Hezbollah, which last fought a major war in 2006. Nasrallah said this month that any future conflict could take place inside Israeli territory.

(Writing by Tom Perry/Laila Bassam; Editing by Alison Williams)


Venezuela’s top prosecutor says police killed protester — Sees violations of constitution

May 25, 2017

AFP and The Associated Press

© Federico Parra, AFP | Venezuela’s Chief Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz delivers a press conference in Caracas, on May 24, 2017.

Latest update : 2017-05-25

Venezuela’s chief prosecutor further distanced herself from the socialist administration Wednesday, deepening the widest rift in a government that has otherwise presented a united front against six weeks of protests.

Public Prosecutor Luisa Ortega said a 20-year-old protester had been killed by a tear gas canister fired by state security forces, giving a version of events that contradicted others in the administration who have strenuously denied state forces were involved. Those officials said the protester was killed either by fellow demonstrators or criminals trying to make the government look bad.

Late Wednesday, Ortega announced that she was opening seven investigations into civilians who have been detained by military tribunals as a result of the anti-government protests. She said trials of civilians by military authorities violate the country’s constitution.

Protests against President Nicolas Maduro‘s government continued Wednesday, and there were more clashes between demonstrators and security forces.

Ortega said 55 people have been killed and about 1,000 injured in the unrest that has been seen almost daily since late March. She said about half of the deaths were caused by riot police and soldiers.

State-run television usually carries the speeches of government officials, but did not broadcast the one by Ortega.


Probe: US bomb set off IS-planted devices in Mosul tragedy

May 25, 2017

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States acknowledged Thursday that bombing an Iraqi building in March set off a series of Islamic-State planted explosives, resulting in more than 100 civilian deaths and underscoring the difficulty of rooting out the extremist group’s fighters from its remaining urban strongholds.

The bomb dropped on a building in the city of Mosul set off explosive materials that IS militants had already been placed inside, causing the structure to collapse, the Pentagon said in describing the conclusion of a two-month investigation. The civilians inside were seeking refuge.

The bombing led to the largest single incident of civilian deaths in the nearly 3-year-old campaign. And it illustrates the difficult urban fight U.S. and coalition forces are encountering, including what U.S. officials describe as IS militants deliberately enticing attacks on buildings where they’ve staged explosives and know civilians are inside. The civilians either enter unwittingly or are forced in and locked up.

The conclusion, said U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Matthew Isler, is that while the U.S.-led coalition takes responsibility for the airstrike, “a coalition munition was not responsible for the structural failure of the building and the deaths of the civilians inside.” He said IS has tried to set up similar incidents since then, prompting Iraqi and coalition forces to adjust combat tactics and watch locations more carefully in advance of strikes.

The battle for Mosul is key to eliminating IS from Iraq. But it has grown riskier for civilians as the battleground shrinks in the highly populated older section of the city. Humanitarian officials have predicted civilian casualties would spike as more than 400,000 civilians were trapped in the city’s west. A similar scenario could emerge in IS’ self-declared capital of Raqqa, Syria, which U.S.-backed militia are expected to start trying to retake soon.

In a telephone briefing with Pentagon reporters, Isler said the 500-pound precision-guided bomb dropped by a U.S. aircraft on March 17 was intended to kill two IS snipers who posed a threat to Iraqi counterterrorism forces.

The probe found that the U.S. bomb triggered secondary explosions from devices clandestinely planted and strategically placed around the second floor of the concrete building. Isler, the lead investigator, said neither the Iraqi troops nor the Americans who authorized and conducted the airstrike knew civilians were in the basement and first floor of the building, or that explosive materials were present.

Although the U.S. has no video or eyewitness accounts of IS militants planting the explosives, Isler said. Enemy fighters warned people in the building next door to leave the area the night before the explosion. IS militants knew there were innocent civilians in the building that collapsed, he said, and possibly gave them the same warning. He said the neighbors refused to leave and, as a result, were told by IS that “what happens to you is on you.”

Isler said 101 civilians in the building were killed, and another four died in a nearby building. He said 36 civilians remain unaccounted for. They may have been killed in the explosion or fled before or after the attack. The deaths represent about a quarter of all civilian deaths associated with U.S. airstrikes since the air campaign began in 2014.

In this case, the civilians weren’t herded into the building. Isler said it was a home owned by a well-regarded Iraqi, who invited people to take shelter there because it was sturdy and well-built.

Describing a lengthy engineering and scientific analysis, Isler said the bomb dropped by the U.S. aircraft struck the roof and detonated, with “localized damage” to the front and second floor areas of the building. He said the 500-pound bomb contained nearly 200 pounds of explosive weight.

Analysts estimate that it would have taken at least four times that amount of explosives — or at least 1,000 pounds — precisely placed along the walls to bring the building down, Isler said.

That analysis, he said, led investigators to conclude that IS staged a large amount of explosives around the walls of the second floor, underneath the snipers’ position, ensuring that a coalition strike would trigger the second blast and much more destruction.

The area was under surveillance for weeks ahead of the strike. But cloudy weather meant the coalition was unable to maintain constant video on the building for two days leading up to the attack.

Instead, forces relied on other intelligence including visual surveillance by Iraqi commandos who could see part but not all of the building. Isler said IS militants had easy access to the second floor and could have quickly planted explosives out of sight of others.

The Iraqi military saw civilians leaving the building in the days before the attack, Isler said, but may have missed people entering.

Two weeks after the bombing, coalition video caught IS fighters forcing civilians into a different building through holes in the walls and then planting propane containers, he said. The fighters then launched an attack on Iraqi forces, hoping to draw a similar U.S. airstrike on civilians.

The coalition did not take the bait and no civilians were harmed, Isler said.


China warns U.S. to remove warship from South China Sea, claims America is trespassing on its territory

May 25, 2017

The National Post
From Reports by Bloomberg and The Washington Post

May 25, 2017

This handout photo taken in May by the U.S. Navy shows the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey preparing for a replenishment-at-sea with the Henry J. Kaiser-class fleet replenishment oiler USNS Pecos in the South China Sea. The US warship USS Dewey sailed near a reef claimed by Beijing in the South China Sea on May 25, 2017, a US official said, the first such operation by US President Donald Trump's administration in the disputed waterway. Beijing again denounced the move Thursday.

Handout/AFP/Getty ImagesThis handout photo taken in May by the U.S. Navy shows the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey preparing for a replenishment-at-sea with the Henry J. Kaiser-class fleet replenishment oiler USNS Pecos in the South China Sea. The US warship USS Dewey sailed near a reef claimed by Beijing in the South China Sea on May 25, 2017, a US official said, the first such operation by US President Donald Trump’s administration in the disputed waterway. Beijing again denounced the move Thursday.
China’s government warned a U.S. warship to leave waters around a reef it claims in the South China Sea, saying the vessel was trespassing on its territory and undermining security in the region.

The U.S. warship entered waters adjacent to the Spratly islands, an area where China has “indisputable sovereignty,” defense ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said at a briefing in Beijing on Thursday. China “identified, tracked, verified and warned off the ship.”

The so-called freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea was the first under President Donald Trump. The guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey made the patrol on Wednesday near Mischief Reef, where China has built an artificial outpost equipped with an airfield, the Wall Street Journal reported.

China claims most of the South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest shipping routes. In recent years it has increased its military presence in the waters by reclaiming thousands of acres of land to build artificial outposts on reefs.

The Chinese military is resolutely opposed to U.S. behaviour which boosts regional militarization and makes accidents more likely

“The Chinese military is resolutely opposed to U.S. behaviour which boosts regional militarization and makes accidents more likely,” Ren said. “China has already made solemn representations to the U.S. side.”

The U.S.’s move was aimed at signaling to China that it intends to keep critical sea lanes open, according to the Journal. The U.S. carries out freedom of navigation operations by sending navy ships and aircraft near disputed territory to demonstrate the right to fly and sail through what it considers to be international waters and airspace.

President Donald Trump’s administration, keen to get China’s help containing North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, had reportedly earlier declined to conduct freedom of navigation operations despite requests by U.S. Pacific Command.

The Defense Department declined to comment on the Wall Street Journal report, with spokesman Jamie Davis saying only that “U.S. forces operate in the Asia-Pacific region on a daily basis, including in the South China Sea.” The U.S. will continue its regular freedom of navigation operations, and summaries of these would be released in its annual report “and not sooner,” Davis said in a statement.

“It appears that U.S. decision makers sought to be responsive to calls for continued FON operations following reports that none had been conducted this year,” Graham Webster, a senior fellow at Yale Law School’s China Center, wrote in an email. “By saying the government will not make further operations public before the annual report, they may seek to avoid the persistent public calls for public FON operations.”

Ren also emphasized that U.S.-China ties were in a critical period and that a stable relationship was in the interests of both sides.


 (Smart money is on China right now)

FILE - Vietnam People's Navy personnel carry their country's national flag.

 (Contains links to several earlier related stories)

FILE photo p rovided by Filipino fisherman Renato Etac —  A Chinese Coast Guard boat approaches Filipino fishermen near Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. Scarborough Shoal has always been part of the Philippines, by international law. China says it is happy to control fishing in the South China Sea. Credit: Renato Etac

No automatic alt text available.

No automatic alt text available.
For about five years China has been loudly proclaiming “indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea.” China has said, everything north of the “nine dash line” shown here, essentially, belongs to China.  On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China chose to ignore international law.

Signs of more trouble in Ivory Coast — Dysfunction and lawlessness now jeopardizing Ivory Coast’s recovery from a decade of turmoil and civil war.

May 25, 2017


By Joe Bavier and Ange Aboa | ABIDJAN

When a rag-tag group of soldiers launched a mutiny in Ivory Coast earlier this month, it looked like they were doomed. A column of elite troops quickly descended to put the mutiny down. The rebels were running out of ammunition and the armories had been locked.

Then, the phone rang.

According to one of the mutiny leaders, the caller, whose identity the mutineers declined to disclose, told them where they could find weapons: at the home of an aide to the parliament speaker.

The group initially feared a trap, but when they reached the location, they found dozens of crates of rifles, machineguns, grenade launchers and ammunition.

Freshly armed, the mutineers were able to hold their ground.

Swiftly, President Alassane Ouattara’s forces sent in to crush the mutiny began falling apart, according to one Special Forces officer who was part of it. The column U-turned and headed back to Abidjan, and for a second time this year, mutineers had brought Ouattara’s government to its knees.

The incident exposed the deep dysfunction and lawlessness now jeopardizing Ivory Coast’s recovery from a decade of turmoil and civil war.

The previously undisclosed phone call suggests powerful people were willing to help the mutineers. And the army, which still outgunned the rebels, was unwilling to follow orders to put the mutiny down.

“(General) Sekou Toure was giving orders and no one was listening,” a regional security official told Reuters, referring to the military chief of staff. “What does that tell you? There’s no control over the military.”


Ivory Coast, a former French colony known for decades as one of the most stable states in West Africa, is still recovering from a brief civil war fought after Ouattara won a disputed election in 2010 but incumbent Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down.

When Ouattara’s backers supported by French troops finally arrested Gbagbo in 2011, the country emerged from the conflict swiftly, becoming Africa’s fastest growing economy.

Investors duly poured in money and have so far tended to shrug off unrest — including a similar army revolt in 2014 and an al Qaeda attack on a beach resort last year.

But behind the remarkably fast recovery, there is still a threat of more violence. A new election is due in 2020, and those who study the country say there is a growing risk it could unravel again.

“It’s really a knife-edge moment,” said Edward George, Head of Group Research at pan-African lender Ecobank. “It wouldn’t take too much more to … spook investors.”

Ouattara has still had difficulty asserting his authority over the army, which was cobbled together in an uneasy merger of the northern New Forces rebels who supported him and the professional troops who had fought against him.

In January, 8,400 former rebels mutinied, demanding bonuses for having helped Ouattara to power. The unrest spread across the country and a panicked government paid 5 million CFA francs ($8,500) to each of them to end it.

It promised another 7 million CFA francs apiece in monthly installments — at a cost of around $100 million — but a drop in the price of its main export cocoa provoked a budget crunch.

Since February, according to several diplomatic sources, the government had been seeking a way out of the promise.

This month, it seemed to have had found one. On May 11, state TV broadcast a statement by a visibly nervous, beret-clad soldier identified as the mutineers’ spokesman.

Named as Sergeant Fofana, he apologized to Ouattara, who was seated nearby, and said the troops had dropped their remaining demands for payments.

There was only one hitch: no one had told the mutineers.

“We never spoke about dropping the demand for money,” said one of the mutiny leaders, who asked not be identified for fear of reprisals.

The next morning, gunfire was heard in cities and towns across the country. Roads were barricaded. In Abidjan, mutineers overran the army headquarters and defense ministry.

Toure, the chief of staff, announced an operation to “re-establish order” and a column of elite troops was deployed towards Bouake, heart of the mutiny.


In a roadside village south of Bouake the following day, a group of low-ranking soldiers sat down with the officers commanding the column. The officers told the soldiers that Ouattara no longer wanted discussions, that their mutiny had tarnished the country’s name, and they must give up now or face the consequences, recalls one soldier present at the meeting.

“We knew if we backed down, they were going to kill us,” the mutineer told Reuters.

It should have been easy for elite forces to put down the revolt. Diplomats said the government had anticipated a reaction after Fofana’s statement and locked armories at military bases.

But after the phone call led the mutineers to the secret stash of weapons, the mutiny spread, shutting down Ivory Coast’s vital cocoa ports in Abidjan and San Pedro. With the chaos worsening, the government capitulated.

Authorities have not confirmed details of the agreement they reached to end the uprising, but mutiny participants were soon queuing up at banks in Bouake to withdraw 5 million CFA francs each. The mutineers say they each expect another 2 million CFA francs to be paid next month.

“This isn’t just about cash. It’s also about 2020,” said Robert Besseling, executive director of risk advisory EXX Africa, referring to the election to succeed Ouattara, who is not permitted to stand for a third term. “I think over the next three years we’ll see more outbreaks of this kind of unrest.”

The mutineers all declined to name the person who told them about the weapons, but the home belonged to Souleymane Kamarate Kone, better known by his nom de guerre “Soul to Soul”, the head of protocol for parliament speaker Guillaume Soro.

The former head of the pro-Ouattara rebellion, Soro is a contender to take over from the president but faces strong opposition from others in the ruling coalition.

Attempts to reach Kone for comment were unsuccessful. He is due to speak to gendarmes about the affair on Friday, according to a copy of a summons seen by Reuters.

Soro issued a statement saying he would not discuss the weapons found at the home of his aide: “Such issues fall under defense secrets. You can therefore understand that I won’t allow myself to comment.”

But the mutiny leaders say they were undoubtedly saved by the secret cache: “Without Soul to Soul’s weapons we couldn’t have held out if they attacked,” said one.

“We could have hidden and fought with guerrilla tactics but not for long. Yes, it saved us.”

($1 = 587.5500 CFA francs)

(Editing by Tim Cocks and Peter Graff)

East Jakarta suicide bombers linked to ISIS — Police say weakened local extremist outfits could get a new lease of life as fighters flee Iraq, Syria

May 25, 2017


Image may contain: 2 people, selfie and closeup

Ichwan Nurul Salam (right) and Solihin, the suspected Jakarta bombers. Police are trying to verify the personal details of the suspects.PHOTO: INDONESIA POLICE

JAKARTA – The two suspects who killed three policemen at a bus terminal in East Jakarta on Wednesday (May 24) night in a suicide-bombing had ties to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the police said on Thursday (May 25).

Police spokesmen told a briefing the militants, who were killed in the twin blasts, had links to ISIS, and the bombs they used were low-grade explosives similar to the type used in a February attack in Bandung which was also linked to ISIS.

The first bomb was detonated outside a public toilet late on Wednesday, and the second near a bus stop some 10 metres away, police spokesman Inspector-General Setyo told reporters.

Police found an invoice dated May 22 from a store in Padalarang, West Java, for the purchase of a pressure cooker at the site, he said, as well as aluminum plates, nails, ball bearings, cable-switcher, and other bomb-making materials.

Insp-Gen Setyo said the attack is similar to the Bandung one, which was launched by a lone militant whom authorities suspected of having links to a radical network sympathetic to ISIS.

Earlier on Thursday a police source had told The Straits Times the Jakarta attackers were also linked to extremists in Poso, Central Sulawesi.

The source identified the first suspect as Solihin, an administrative staff at the Darul Anshor, an Islamic boarding school in Poso, and the other as Ichwan Nurul Salam, a 34-year-old man from Bandung, West Java.

Police are still verifying the personal information of the alleged attackers, the source added.

President Joko Widodo condemned the attack on Thursday.

“This is execrable. Ojek (motorcycle taxi) driver fell victim, public minivan driver, store sellers, as well as policemen,” Mr Joko told reporters in his hometown in Central Java, referring to the three slain police officers and 11 others injured, the presidential palace said in a statement.

The number of injured was previously given as 10.

While the police believe the suspects had ties to extremists in Central Sulawesi, counter-terrorism investigators are trying to establish if they were also linked to the remnants of the East Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT) militant group which operates out of Poso.

The MIT is behind several terror attacks in Indonesia since 2012, including skirmishes with security forces during which police officers and people in Central Sulawesi were killed.

MIT leader Santoso, also known as Abu Wardah, and another MIT combatant, were killed in the fire-fight last year. Santoso and his men from MIT had pledged allegiance to Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Three Indonesian policemen were killed and five other officers were injured after the two suspects allegedly set off what was believed to be a pressure cooker bomb near a bus terminal in Kampung Melayu, in East Jakarta, at about 9pm local time on Wednesday.

It appeared that the bombing followed a similar pattern of attack by domestic militants targeting local police officers in Indonesia.

The policemen had assembled to escort a scheduled parade organised by a community group in the neighbourhood when the explosion was heard, said the police.

It also came just three days before the Muslim fasting month begins on Saturday.

On July 5 last year, just days before fasting month was to end, a suicide bomber on a motorcycle blew himself up after he was stopped by officers from entering the local police headquarters in Solo city.

The bomber had used low-grade explosives in the homemade bomb, which like most improvised explosive devices (IEDs), contained ball-bearings and screws, and was trying to attack the policemen as they reported for their shift.

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, has long struggled with Islamic militancy. Hundreds of radicals from the South-east Asian state have flocked to Syria to fight with ISIS, sparking fears that weakened extremist outfits could get a new lease of life.

Philippines: Town police chief not beheaded — President Duterte Keeps Going on Martial Law Anyway (Farce or Hoax? — Should We Be in Martial Law?)

May 25, 2017
/ 01:41 AM May 26, 2017

DAVAO CITY — President Rodrigo Duterte may have been misinformed when he reported that terrorists who had rampaged through Marawi City beheaded the police chief of Malabang town in Lanao del Sur.

Mr. Duterte said on Wednesday that the police chief, whom he did not identify, was stopped at a checkpoint on Tuesday by the gunmen who decapitated the officer “right then and there.”

Still alive

The Malabang police chief, however, is still at his post he had occupied just two months earlier.

“I’m still alive,” Senior Insp. Romeo Enriquez told the Inquirer by phone on Thursday.

Authorities said five soldiers and two police officers were killed in clashes with Abu Sayyaf and Maute group fighters.

Enriquez said he had replaced one of the slain officers — Senior Insp. Freddie Manuel Solar — as police chief of Malabang two months ago. Solar was shot, not beheaded by his killers.

The body of the other officer, Insp. Edwin Placido, deputy police chief of Marawi still has not been retrieved as of this writing.

Solar was a graduate of Philippine National Police Academy Class 2007 and served as Marawi police intelligence chief.

He was outside Amai Pakpak Medical Center in a police car when the gunmen seized him. His abductors later shot him dead. —NICO ALCONABA

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Lorenzana said the confrontation opened Tuesday afternoon, when government forces attempted to arrest a senior leader of the Abu Sayyaf Group, an extremist organization with ties to the Islamic State. They had learned Isnilon Hapilon was in the area, but according to Lorenzana, the military had not expected him to be backed up by “more or less 100 fighters” — many of whom were members of another ISIS-linked organization, the Maute Group.

More than 100 gunmen responded to the raid by burning buildings and conducting other diversionary tactics, officials said, adding that thousands of residents have fled Marawi.

 (with links to related reports)


Hungary defies EU on law threatening Soros-founded university

May 25, 2017


© AFP | A banner hangs over the Budapest tunnel, as Students and teachers of the Central European University protest in Budapest in April 2017


Hungary will not change a controversial higher education law a government official said Thursday, despite an EU threat of legal action over fears it targets a prestigious university founded by US billionaire George Soros.

The European Commission, the executive of the 28-nation EU, last month launched a so-called infringement action against Hungary over revisions to its education law which were fast-tracked through parliament last month.

It gave Budapest until Thursday to respond to questions in its “letter of formal notice” or face being taken to court.

“The European Commission has not provided one single argument why the law should be modified,” Janos Lazar, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief-of-staff, told a press briefing.

The Commission alleged that the new legislation targets the Central European University (CEU) founded by Hungarian-born US billionaire George Soros, and that it breaches fundamental EU free-market laws as well as the right of academic freedom.

The government has denied the allegations and says it wants to remove advantages enjoyed by some foreign-based institutions.

The law requires foreign colleges and universities to operate on the basis of an intergovernmental agreement and to have a campus in the country in which they are based.

Set up in 1991 by Soros to foster democratic values after the end of communism, the English-language and Budapest-based CEU attracts students from 117 countries, but has long been seen as a hostile bastion of liberalism by Orban’s right-wing government.

“(Soros) lobbied well in Brussels, he has managed to mobilise the European Commission and the European Parliament,” Lazar said Thursday.

Chartered by the State of New York, the CEU has just one campus, in Budapest, where its continued operation would be made “impossible” by the new law according to the CEU rector Michael Ignatieff.

“The Orban regime can’t stand free institutions,” he told AFP last month.

The bill has sparked large street protests in Budapest and international condemnation including from universities, academics, and Nobel prizewinners around the world.

Budapest has insisted that under the new law an intergovernmental agreement between Hungary and the US federal administration is required to let the CEU keep its operating license.

The US State Department said this week however that the US government has “no authority or intention to enter into negotiations” over the CEU, and that education is not a matter for the federal administration.

In a statement it urged Budapest to “suspend implementation” of the law which it said “places discriminatory, onerous requirements on US-accredited institutions in Hungary and threatens academic freedom and independence”.

New York state governor Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that he is “ready to enter into discussions with the Hungarian government” to keep open “a treasured resource for students around the world”.

The government was ready to listen to what Cuomo has to say as a “matter of courtesy”, Lazar said.


‘Ultimatum’: EU paints Hungary as ‘villain’ in migrant dispute, trying to pressure court – minister

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Russia’s disinformation efforts hit 39 countries: researchers

May 25, 2017


© AFP/File | A new report says Russian cyberespionage efforts hit at least 39 countries with disinformation and “tainted” leaks that mixed real and fake news


Russia’s campaign of cyberespionage and disinformation has targeted hundreds of individuals and organizations from at least 39 countries along with the United Nations and NATO, researchers said Thursday.

A report by the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto revealed the existence of “a major disinformation and cyber espionage campaign with hundreds of targets in government, industry, military and civil society,” lead researcher Ronald Deibert said.

The findings suggest that the cyber attacks on the 2016 presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton — which US intelligence officials have attributed to Russia — were just the tip of the iceberg.

Citizen Lab researchers said the espionage has targeted not only government, military and industry targets, but also journalists, academics, opposition figures, and activists,

Notable targets, according to the report, have included a former Russian prime minister, former high-ranking US officials, members of cabinets from Europe and Eurasia, ambassadors, high ranking military officers and chief executives of energy companies.

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In a blog post, Deibert said the Russian-directed campaign follows a pattern of “phishing” attacks to obtain credentials of targets, and carefully “tainted” leaks that mix real and false information to create confusion around the true facts.

“Russia has a long history of experience with what is known as ‘dezinformatsiya,’ going back even to Soviet times,” Deibert said.

“Tainted leaks, such as those analyzed in our report, present complex challenges to the public. Fake information scattered amongst genuine materials — ‘falsehoods in a forest of facts’… is very difficult to distinguish and counter, especially when it is presented as a salacious ‘leak’ integrated with what otherwise would be private information.”

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Deibert said the researchers had no “smoking gun” that links the campaign to a particular government agency but added that “our report nonetheless provides clear evidence of overlap with what has been publicly reported by numerous industry and government reports about Russian cyber espionage.”

Citizen Lab said one of the targets was US journalist David Satter, who has written extensively on corruption in Russia.

Satter’s stolen e-mails were “selectively modified,” and then “leaked” to give the false impression that he was part of a CIA-backed plot to discredit Russian President Vladimir Putin, the report said.

Similar leak campaigns targeted officials from Afghanistan, Armenia, Austria, Cambodia, Egypt, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Peru, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sudan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam, according to the report.

UN officials and military personnel from more than a dozen countries were also targets, Citizen Lab said.

“Our hope is that in studying closely and publishing the details of such tainted leak operations, our report will help us better understand how to recognize and mitigate them,” Deibert said.

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