Posts Tagged ‘Mindanao’

Philippines: Fears of another Marawi as Islamic State militants regroup, plan suicide bombings

November 5, 2017

By Amy Chew
Channel News Asia

In the first of a three-part series on the changing security situation in the southern Philippines, Channel NewsAsia’s Amy Chew looks at the possibility that Islamic extremists could be regrouping to fight new battles.

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Government soldiers stand in front of damaged houses and buildings in Marawi city, Philippines, Oct 25, 2017. (Photo: Reuters / Romeo Ranoco)

COTABATO CITY, Philippines: It was mid-morning when two cars suddenly drove up and parked next to each other outside Notre Dame University, one of the oldest universities in Cotabato City.

Eight to 10 young men came out of the cars. One of them draped the black flag of Islamic State (IS) behind his back and walked up and down the street together with his friends.

“It was like a parade to show off the flag. People stopped to stare at them,” a local resident who witnessed the incident told Channel NewsAsia.

“The parade lasted about 10 minutes before they returned to their cars and drove off,” said the resident, who declined to be named.

The incident last month unnerved the community and left people worried that pro-IS groups on Mindanao island in the southern Philippines may be trying to stage another Marawi-style attack to take over a city.

“I must plan for an exit strategy, like get a job in another city in case the worst happens,” said the resident.

On May 23, pro-IS groups led by the Maute Group, founded by brothers Omar and Abdullah Maute, and Isnilon Hapilon of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) attacked Marawi, located some 155km away from Cotabato City.

It took the Philippine military five months before it could seize control of the city from the militants on Oct 17.

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Philippine marines from the Marine Battalion Landing Team stand to attention during their arrival from Marawi at port area in metro Manila, Philippines October 30, 2017. REUTERS/Dondi Tawatao

The siege killed more than 1,100 people, including 920 militants, 47 civilians and 165 troops, and displaced another 400,000 people.

Both Maute brothers and Isnilon were also killed.

But that has not ended the battle against militants in the region as those who have escaped have raised concerns where they have resettled. Among those cities where militants have sought refuge is the southern city of Cotabato.

COTABATO HEAVILY INFILTRATED BY MILITANTS FROM MARAWI

Concerns about the threat of spreading violence in the southern Philippines have been raised across the region, with comments from Singapore’s Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam typical of what has been said.

“You’ve got the situation in Marawi, you’ve got the situation in Rakhine State (in Myanmar), and it’s going to attract fighters, extremists, would-be terrorists to go to these places to fight,” he said in September. “And once they come to this region, then they will try to spread out to other targets too,” he added.

Analysts believe that while the situation in Marawi has been brought under control by the Philippine military, the threat is far from over.

“Cotabato City is in serious trouble. It is badly infiltrated by pro-IS groups,” said Professor Rommel Banlaoi, head of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research.

“Many of the (IS) escapees from Marawi, including one Maute brother, are being sheltered in Cotabato City where they are actively recruiting new recruits,” Prof Banlaoi added.

The Marawi siege exposed the depth of IS penetration into southern Philippines, where it plans to set up a Southeast Asia caliphate.

Former Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) militants told Channel NewsAsia in an interview that Mindanao is the only place in ASEAN where IS can carve out a wilayat, or province, given its porous borders, large ungoverned spaces and abundant guns, ammunitions and explosive materials available for sale in the black market.

PRO-IS GROUPS FLUSH WITH LOOTED CASH FROM MARAWI 

“The pro-IS groups are trying to stage another Marawi-style attack in other cities. They have lots of money to fund more attacks as they looted billions of pesos from Marawi during the siege,” a senior security source told Channel NewsAsia.

Residents of Marawi typically do not trust banks and many of them stash their cash in vaults kept in their homes, according to the source.

“The money was looted from the vaults installed in the homes of individuals and there were many of them,” the source added.

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Bombed-out buildings in Marawi after the siege AFP/TED ALJIBE

Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff General Eduardo Año said IS gave the Maute group at least US$1.5 million for the Marawi siege.

As IS loses territory in the Middle East, its funds are expected to dwindle and some believe it will not have the same resources to fund attacks in Philippines.

But according to the security source, money and weapons looted from the Marawi siege are “more than enough” for IS groups to stage terror attacks in the Philippines.

“IS groups have more than enough money. They also receive funds from wealthy individuals in the country. Not only that, they also looted weapons from Marawi so they do have weapons as well,” the security source added.

While it would be difficult for the IS groups to take over an entire city like in Marawi, they have the capacity to take over parts of a city, according to the security source.

“I also expect IS-inspired lone wolves to target Metro Manila for attacks,” the source added.

PUSH FOR SUICIDE BOMBINGS

Inside buildings abandoned by IS militants in Marawi city, the military is finding a treasure trove of information on terror plots outlined in documents left behind by the militants.

“I am looking at three major scenarios based on confiscated documents found in various buildings in Marawi city,” said Prof Banlaoi of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research.

“One of the activities they (IS) want is to promote suicide bombings by lone wolves, the use of IEDS (improvised explosive device) and the use of fire bombs,” added Prof Banlaoi.

“The targets for attacks are Davao City, the hometown of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, to send a message of “retaliation,” he said. “The other targets are the provinces of Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, General Santos City and Zamboanga.”

Apart from recruitment, IS groups are also focusing on conducting training, particularly for bomb-making, he said.

HEAVY CLASHES IN JUNGLE 

As urban dwellers brace for possible IS-inspired attacks, heavy clashes are taking place in the jungle marshlands in Maguindanao province between IS and the military.

Maguindanao is located just outside of Cotabato city. The military has joined forces with its former enemy, the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the largest armed group in Mindanao, to fight against the IS groups.

Abi, a MILF fighter, spent one month in the jungles fighting 500 IS militants in Datu Salibo, Maguindanao province from 3 Sep to Oct 2.

He described the IS fighters as “very well-trained and well-armed.”

“There were many IS fighters and they were very well-trained, well-armed and well-organised. They had many guns, ammunitions, explosives and bombs. They rigged a large area with bombs,” said Abi, shaking his head with disbelief as he recounted his experience.

“These IS fighters are experts in making bombs. They also had snipers,” said Abi as he sat beneath a tree on the outskirts of Cotabato City. He also saw fighters as young as 13 years old.

“The fighters were dressed in black and sported long beards and long hair. They flew the black flags of IS in their area,” said Abi.

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Graffiti is seen on a wall of a back-alley as government soldiers continue their assault against the Maute group in Marawi City, Philippines in June. (File photo: REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco)

“Every single fighter had a bullet-proof vest on … they must have a lot of money to be able to afford those vests,” said Abi.

As he was speaking, Abi threw a quick look around his surroundings.

“IS spies are everywhere. There are many of them. One needs to be careful,” he said.

“IS is offering people 100,000 pesos (US$1,950) to join them. They also promised new recruits they would get a monthly allowance of 30,000 pesos,” said Abi. “Many people on Mindanao island have been recruited by them.”

According to the military, clashes in Datu Salibo erupted on Aug 2 when the pro-IS Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) tried to hoist the black flag of IS in the area.

BIFF is a splinter group of MILF.

“Heavy fighting ensued. Air support was also called in,” Lieutenant-Colonel Gerry Besana, Joint Task Force Central spokesman, told Channel NewsAsia.

“Fifty one BIFF members were killed … while the MILF lost 20 men,” said Besana. While there is a lull in military operations, the battle is not yet over. “We expect operations to resume within the next 15 days,” Besana added.

MILF PROVIDES MILITARY INTELLIGENCE TO COUNTER IS

The participation of MILF in the fight against terrorism in Mindanao has provided crucial mass support, said Prof Banlaoi.

“And having the MILF on your side is already a good advantage. They provide military support, intelligence support, they know the terrain, they know people in the terrain as they are fighting their former brothers,” he added.

According to Prof Banlaoi, at least 21 militant groups have pledged allegiance to IS.  Of the 21, four are deemed to be the most dangerous.

The four are:

  • Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters
  • Abu Sayyaf Group faction previously led by the late Isnilon Hapilon
  • Khilafah Islamiyah Mindanao (KIM)
  • Ansarul Khilafah Philippines (AKP)

As IS territories began to crumble in the Middle East, the global terror group called on its followers to make their way to the southern Philippines, the new land of jihad.

Malaysian police have arrested at least five men for attempting to travel to southern Philippines to join the pro-IS faction of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG)

“To date, we have arrested one Malaysian, two Indonesians, two Bangladeshis who tried to make their way to southern Philippines to join the pro-IS faction of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG),” Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, head of counter-terrorism division of Special Branch, told Channel NewsAsia.

Special Branch is the intelligence arm of the Royal Malaysian Police.

And while more suspected extremists are being held, there are claims that new destinations are in the spotlight.

Indonesian Ali Fauzi, a former MILF fighter and member of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the terror network behind the 2002 Bali bombings, told Channel NewsAsia, Indonesians were heading for Zamboanga city and Basilan island in southern Philippines.

“I’ve heard that a group is heading towards Zamboanga, Basilan island and its surrounding area,” Fauzi told Channel NewsAsia.

“They (militants) feel much safer there as many locals will protect them,” he said.

Source: CNA/ac
Read more at http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asiapacific/fears-of-another-marawi-as-islamic-state-militants-regroup-plan-9363606
Read more at http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asiapacific/fears-of-another-marawi-as-islamic-state-militants-regroup-plan-9363606

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The main battle area in the southern city of Marawi on Oct. 25, after the Philippines’s military proclaimed the fighting over against militants backed by the Islamic State. CreditTed Aljibe/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

See also:

Unexpected Benefits From a Battle Against ISIS

At source:https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/05/opinion/marawi-philippines-maute-duterte.html

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Mattis says to discuss N. Korea threat on Philippines trip — Praises the Philippines for its successes in battling Islamic State in Marawi

October 23, 2017

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Image result for james mattis, philippines, photos

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis

CLARK (PHILIPPINES) (AFP) – US Secretary of Defense James Mattis said Monday that curbing military threats from North Korea would be high on the agenda on his Asian tour this week, ahead of a visit by Donald Trump.

Tension has been high on the divided peninsula for months with Pyongyang staging its sixth nuclear test and launching two ICBMs that apparently brought much of the US mainland into range.

Trump and the North’s leader Kim Jong-Un have meanwhile traded threats of war and personal insults.

Mattis, on his way to the Philippines for security talks with Southeast Asian defence ministers, said he would discuss the “regional security crisis caused by reckless… North Korea” among other issues.

At the forum, Mattis is also expected to hold three-way talks with his counterparts from South Korea and Japan — key US allies in Asia — before visiting Seoul for annual defence talks.

“We will discuss… how we are going to maintain peace by keeping our militaries alert while our diplomats — Japanese, South Korean and US — work with all nations to denuclearise the Korean peninsula,” Mattis told reporters on his aircraft.

He stressed the international community’s goal was to denuclearise the flashpoint region, adding: “There is only one country with nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula.”

Mattis’ visit to Seoul comes ahead of Trump’s first presidential trip to Asia next month, which also includes South Korea. All eyes will be on Trump’s message to the isolated North.

His recent remark that “only one thing will work” with North Korea fuelled concerns of a potential conflict.

But even some Trump advisers say US military options are limited when Pyongyang could launch an artillery barrage on the South Korean capital Seoul — only around 50 kilometres from the heavily fortified border and home to 10 million people.

The defence ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), meeting in the northern Philippine city of Clark ahead of talks with Mattis, issued a strong statement against North Korea on Monday.

“(We) express grave concerns over the escalation of tensions in the Korean Peninsula including the testing and launching by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) in addition to its previous nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches,” the joint declaration said.

“(We) strongly urge the DPRK to immediately comply with its obligations arising from all the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions.”

Mattis met with his counterparts from ASEAN on Monday afternoon.

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U.S. defense chief Mattis praises Philippines for success in Marawi

Mattis: ‘It was a very tough fight as you know in southern Mindanao. And I think the Philippine military sends a very strong message to the terrorists.’

Published 12:59 PM, October 23, 2017
Updated 1:00 PM, October 23, 2017

PENTAGON CHIEF. In this file photo, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis arrives on Capitol Hill, October 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP

PENTAGON CHIEF. In this file photo, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis arrives on Capitol Hill, October 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP

CLARK, Philippines – US Defense Secretary James Mattis on Monday, October 23, praised the Philippines for its successes in battling Islamic State (ISIS) supporters, as he began an Asian trip aimed at reaffirming American support for regional allies.

Image result for Soldiers stand on guard in front of damaged buildings after government troops cleared the area from pro-Islamic State militant groups inside a war-torn area in Bangolo town, Marawi City, southern Philippines October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announces the end of the battle for Marawi

Mattis echoed Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s statement last week that Filipino forces had “liberated” the southern city of Marawi, after 5 months of bitter urban fighting that had claimed more than 1,000 lives, even though battles have continued.

 Image result for Soldiers stand on guard in front of damaged buildings after government troops cleared the area from pro-Islamic State militant groups inside a war-torn area in Bangolo town, Marawi City, southern Philippines October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
Damaged houses and buildings are seen after Philippine government troops cleared the area from pro-Islamic rebels. Reuters photo

“One of the first things I’m going to do when I get there is commend the Philippine military for liberating Marawi from the terrorists,” Mattis told reporters on the flight to the Philippines, according to an official transcript.

“It was a very tough fight as you know in southern Mindanao. And I think the Philippine military sends a very strong message to the terrorists.”

Gunmen who had pledged allegiance to ISIS occupied parts of Marawi, the largest Islamic city of the mainly Catholic Philippines, on May 23 in what Duterte said was a bid to establish a Southeast Asian caliphate there.

Hundreds of insurgents withstood a US-backed military campaign, including near daily air strikes and artillery fire, that displaced more than 400,000 people and left large parts of Marawi in ruins.

Duterte last week travelled to Marawi to declare it had been “liberated”, a day after the Southeast Asian leader for ISIS, Isnilon Hapilon, was shot dead there.

Image result for Soldiers stand on guard in front of damaged buildings after government troops cleared the area from pro-Islamic State militant groups inside a war-torn area in Bangolo town, Marawi City, southern Philippines October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

Philippine troops at work

However deadly fighting has continued, with the military reporting dozens of militants are still resisting in a small pocket of the city.

Mattis flew to the Philippines to attend a meeting hosted by Southeast Asian defense ministers at the former American military base of Clark, two hours’ drive north of Manila.

The Philippines is a former American colony and the two nations are bound by a mutual defense treaty.

But relations have soured under Duterte as he has sought to build closer ties with China and Russia.

Defense ministers from Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and Russia are also scheduled to attend the two-day Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) event.

Mattis’ Asia trip, which will also take him to Thailand and South Korea, comes ahead of US President Donald Trump’s visit to Asia next month.

Some American allies in the region have become wary of Trump’s interest in Asia.

Mattis sought to reassure allies.

“The US remains unambiguously committed to supporting ASEAN,” Mattis said. – Rappler.com

Inside Islamic State’s Other Grisly War, a World Away From Syria

October 18, 2017

Islamists in the Philippines pledged allegiance to ISIS, devastated a city and built a model for jihadists after the fall of Raqqa

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MARAWI, Philippines—On the third day of his captivity, during one of the most violent jihadist rebellions outside the Middle East and Africa, Ronnel Samiahan watched Islamist militants make an example of a fellow hostage who had tried to break free.

After dragging the conscious man onto the street and pulling his head up by the hair, the militants began sawing at his neck with a knife. Five minutes later, the executioner thrust the severed head toward the remaining hostages, warning, “If you try to escape, this is what is going to happen to you,” recalled Mr. Samiahan, a Christian local laborer.

Islamist militants took over this city of 200,000 people in late May, modeling themselves on Islamic State, or ISIS. Philippine soldiers, assisted by the U.S. military, struggled to reclaim it.

The Philippine military has struggled to defeat hundreds of well-armed militants who seized the southern city of Marawi in May. Photo: Linus Guardian Escandor II for The Wall Street Journal

Philippine authorities on Monday said two of the militants’ most senior leaders had been killed, including one on Washington’s list of most-wanted terrorists, and that it was a few days from securing the city. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday declared the city liberated.

The militants’ occupation—and the military’s siege—has left Marawi in ruins, with more than 1,000 soldiers, civilians and militants killed and many neighborhoods devastated by airstrikes. A few dozen militants remain in the city, the military said on Tuesday.

The Marawi battle shows how militant groups outside the Middle East and Africa are finding a template in Islamic State, not just as an exporter of terrorism, but also as a holder of territory. ISIS itself is looking for new beachheads having been pushed out of strongholds such as its de facto capital of Raqqa, Syria, which U.S.-backed forces said they captured this week.

“They look around the globe,” said Colin Clarke, a counterterrorism researcher at Rand Corp., a policy think tank. “They try to find a place where there is an ongoing insurgency, and they latch themselves onto that cause and exploit those local grievances.”

President Duterte has voiced concern that violence could spread from Marawi to other areas in the southern Philippines. Analysts say revenge or copycat attacks are likely to strike Manila or other Southeast Asian capitals.

In mid-2016, ISIS called on potential new recruits unable to join it in the Middle East to look to the Philippines. ISIS media agencies have promoted the Marawi conflict to their followers.

A Philippine soldier during clearing operations against Islamist militants in Marawi in September.
A Philippine soldier during clearing operations against Islamist militants in Marawi in September.

Behind the Battle

A brief history of the Marawi conflict and the Islamist groups that sparked it.

Isnilon Hapilon and his Abu Sayyaf Islamist militant group kidnap tourists, later beheading some.
Hapilon swears allegiance to Islamic State, which later endorses him as “emir” in Southeast Asia.
Fighters from a newly emerging Islamist group in Mindanao, led by Omar and Abdullah Maute, occupy a town, later bomb Davao City.
Maute fighters swear allegiance to Islamic State, raid Marawi jail.
Hapilon and his group begin joining Maute fighters.
Philippine military mobilizes against militants in Marawi, beginning long siege as Maute fighters dig in, using improvised explosives and snipers.
Maute fighters flying Islamic State flags occupy Marawi, burning buildings, taking hostages.
A misaimed airstrike kills 11 Philippine soldiers as troops push militants to city’s east.
The U.S. says it is providing special forces assistance to the Philippines.
Military takes back first of three key bridges, later retakes key buildings.
Military retakes remaining bridge. Earlier in the month, Philippine authorities say one Maute brother believed killed.
Philippine authorities say two remaining militant leaders killed; military declares battle nearly over.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declares Marawi liberated.

Sources: Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine Government, Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict

“It will be difficult to replicate a similar urban assault like Marawi in the short term,” said Francisco J. Lara, Philippines country manager of peace-building agency International Alert. “But the threat of a similar attack in the future remains real.”

Marawi is on Mindanao island, long known as a haven for extremists, from communist guerrillas to separatist Muslims. The U.S. for years has kept a small special forces contingent on the island.

The militants in Marawi, known as the Maute after the brothers who led them, Omar and Abdullah Maute, received funds from ISIS and modeled many of their tactics on the group, Philippine officials say. Their goal was to create a caliphate, or Islamic kingdom, with fighters from abroad including Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, these officials say.

Marawi was once a relatively prosperous trading hub, surrounded by hills and a lake. It is predominantly Muslim, with the minarets and domes of mosques. There is a small Catholic minority.

The siege

The tale of the Marawi battle—told by the Philippine military and witnesses on the ground, including former hostages—shows how ISIS-inspired militants can quickly consume a city far from its base and supply lines in the Middle East.

ABDULLAH AND OMAR MAUTE

PHOTO: INTERPOL
  • Brothers based in and around Butig, a town near Marawi
  • From a wealthy elite family with Middle East connections. Omar studied in Egypt and Abdullah, in Jordan
  • In 2016, led a brief occupation of Butig and bombed a market in Davao City, southern Philippines
  • Swore allegiance to Islamic State in April 2016
  • Abdullah believed killed in August and Omar killed Oct. 16, Philippine authorities say

ISNILON HAPILON

PHOTO: INTERPOL
  • A faction leader of the extremist Abu Sayyaf Group, which allied with other pro-Islamic State groups including the Maute
  • U.S. State Department has $5 million bounty on his capture
  • Known for kidnappings, including of Americans in 2001
  • Stronghold in Basilan island, southwest Philippines
  • Swore allegiance to Islamic State in 2014
  • Islamic State in 2016 declared Hapilon its “emir,” or ruler, in Southeast Asia
  • Killed Oct. 16, Philippine authorities say

Sources: Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine Government, Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict

It began May 23. Soldiers and police moved in on a house after receiving intelligence showing the Maute brothers and another militant leader, Isnilon Hapilon, were hiding there.

The military, which inadvertently interrupted a plan to occupy Marawi, found itself laying a siege that would last roughly five months.

Known for kidnapping and beheading foreigners from tourist resorts even before his ISIS affiliation, Mr. Hapilon is on the U.S. State Department’s most-wanted-terrorists list. In 2014, he swore allegiance to ISIS, which two years later endorsed him on its central media channel as its “emir,” or ruler, in Southeast Asia.

The Maute brothers were a lesser-understood threat. They were educated in Egypt and Jordan and from an elite local family, according to the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, a terror-research group in Jakarta. In 2016, they briefly occupied a town about a two-hour drive from Marawi. Their group later attacked a Marawi prison, releasing some of their captured fighters, and bombed a night market in Davao City, President Duterte’s hometown.

Before government troops could get close on May 23, they came under fire from several buildings and retreated. Soon, hundreds of heavily armed fighters who had infiltrated Marawi began flooding the streets, planting the black ISIS flag in public areas and taking hostages, primarily Christians and the Muslims who sought to protect them.

The militants torched a cathedral and a school. Photographs by residents show Maute fighters in dark clothing and hats or balaclavas patrolling streets and mounting ISIS flags on vehicles. Civilians fled to surrounding towns and to government-run refugee camps. President Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao.

A hostage’s tale

Mr. Samiahan, who witnessed the hostage’s execution, had lived in Marawi for five years. His family of seven slipped out the back of their house after darkness and hid in the tall grass of an adjacent field as Maute fighters, yelling in triumph, set fire to the next-door Dansalan College, a Christian school.

The family spent the night huddled in the rain as Maute fighters shined flashlights across the grassy field. They were so close, Mr. Samiahan’s wife, Yolanda, said, “you could almost shake their hands.”

Ronnel Samiahan, 34, here with his son Greg, witnessed a beheading during his captivity by the Islamist militants.
Ronnel Samiahan, 34, here with his son Greg, witnessed a beheading during his captivity by the Islamist militants.

In following days, they hid in a hospital and other buildings before deciding no rescue was coming. Attempting to leave the militant-controlled part of the city, they were stopped at a Maute checkpoint. There, militants tested residents to see if they were Muslim or Christian: Only those who could reply to a Muslim greeting in Arabic were allowed to leave.

Mr. Samiahan, unlike most of his relatives, failed the test and was locked in a warehouse. On his second night, one captive tried to loosen his bonds while the Maute were sleeping. When fighters discovered the ruse, they performed the beheading and forced the remaining hostages to bury the head, Mr. Samiahan said.

It took the military several days to mobilize and push Maute fighters back from western portions of the city and liberate the city hall and hydroelectric dams that provide most of Marawi’s power. The Maute fought back fiercely, killing several troops.

By May 28, bodies of at least 16 civilians had been recovered, according to military officials, including those of eight men who were dumped in a ravine—the number had climbed to at least 47 late last week. Several were shot in the head with hands bound, accompanied by a sign in a local language reading “traitor,” according to local media reports.

The Agus river separated the battle zone, left, and the safe zone in Marawi.
The Agus river separated the battle zone, left, and the safe zone in Marawi.

The Agus River bisects Marawi, with the central business district and Marawi’s largest mosque and church in the Maute-controlled east. Maute fighters fortified three bridges, presenting a formidable obstacle to the military’s counteroffensive, and soldiers who tried crossing were met with sniper fire and rocket-propelled grenades.

The military, unused to urban warfare, called in airstrikes. Lacking guided munitions, the Philippine military divebombed the city with FA-50 jets and OV-10 Bronco propeller aircraft. On May 31, a badly aimed airstrike killed 11 soldiers. Government officials called it a tragic incident and launched a review.

In early June, the U.S. disclosed it was providing special forces assistance to Philippine troops but didn’t elaborate.

The constant aerial bombardment devastated Marawi’s center. Businessman Solaiman Mangorsi, 58, said he lost nearly $600,000 in damaged property after bombs struck areas that included a bookstore and other properties he owned. He said he wasn’t insured.

By mid-June, the battle had become a grind, with both sides digging in. Militants avoided airstrikes by boring holes in walls so they could move from house to house undetected.

Lt. Kim Adrian R. Martial of the Philippine Marine Corps led his platoon across this bridge in June before being forced to retreat.
Lt. Kim Adrian R. Martial of the Philippine Marine Corps led his platoon across this bridge in June before being forced to retreat.

A Christian hostage, Lordvin Acopio, a 29-year-old teacher, said militants forced him and other captives to make improvised explosives from firecrackers and shrapnel. They sent other hostages to search houses for guns, food and ammunition.

As the weeks passed, more hostages escaped. Mr. Samiahan, who witnessed the execution, broke free after discovering a padlock wasn’t properly closed. He made a mad dash for the military-held portion of the city, leaping over concrete barriers and plunging into the river and to safety.

Mr. Acopio escaped at night after a mosque he was held in was bombarded with tear gas. He and a priest scrambled through a hole blasted in the building, he said, and “just ran and ran and ran.”

Teacher Lordvin Acopio, 29, was held hostage by militants he says forced him to make improvised explosives.
Teacher Lordvin Acopio, 29, was held hostage by militants he says forced him to make improvised explosives.

By early September, the military had achieved several key victories, taking back landmarks including Marawi’s largest mosque. And it concluded, based on intercepted terrorist chatter, that Abdullah Maute had been killed in late August. By September’s end they had retaken the remaining bridges and pushed the militants into a few blocks bordering the lake.

The final battles were fought in close quarters. In one mission, Sgt. Roderick Peruandos of the Philippine Marine Corps, led a team to clear houses on the approach to what is known as the “White Mosque,” where senior militants including Mr. Hapilon were believed to be holding out. Moving room to room, they spotted a hole in the floor, when suddenly a homemade grenade was tossed out.

One corporal, who celebrated his 27th birthday with his squad just a few weeks earlier, was killed almost instantly, said Sgt. Peruandos. The grenade was made, he said, out of scrounged shrapnel and explosives from firecrackers and unexploded bombs dropped during airstrikes.

The other marines fled, leaving Sgt. Peruandos alone to fend off insurgents with rifle fire as he wrapped a tourniquet around his wounded leg. After an hour of bombardment, he crawled to safety, a bone in his leg snapped in two. The insurgents, though weakened, were left secure in their redoubt.

The government on Monday said Omar Maute and Mr. Hapilon had been killed, and the military said its offensive had boxed the remaining militant-controlled area to one or two hectares. The bodies of the two leaders were recovered and the remaining 30-odd fighters “were seen scampering in disarray,” the military said.

Displaced people from Marawi at an evacuation camp in Pantar district, southern Philippines. PHOTOS: LINUS GUARDIAN ESCANDOR II FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL(3)

If Marawi is declared militant-free, the Philippine government will then face painstaking work clearing improvised explosive devices and rebuilding the city. Tens of thousands of displaced people whose homes were destroyed remain in government-run camps.

Sgt. Peruandos, who has fought communist rebels and gangs in Mindanao for nearly all his 15-year military career, said he had never encountered an enemy like those who nearly killed him in Marawi. “It’s like they don’t care for their lives,” he said. “They just want to kill or be killed.”

After authorities declared the militant leaders dead, a pro-ISIS messenger channel said the group would train new recruits with combat knowledge learned from the battle, according to SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist activity online. The channel declared: “Marawi is just the beginning!”

A government soldier took up position in the battle area of Marawi in September.
A government soldier took up position in the battle area of Marawi in September.

Write to Jake Maxwell Watts at jake.watts@wsj.com

 https://www.wsj.com/articles/inside-islamic-states-other-grisly-war-a-world-away-from-syria-1508337872

Philippines: Duterte declares Marawi freed from terrorists

October 17, 2017
In this Oct. 2, 2017 photo, President Rodrigo Duterte, on his sixth visit to Marawi City, led the inauguration of the Bahay Pag-asa Project at Barangay Bito Buadi Itowa that is intended for the residents of Marawi who were internally displaced due to the conflict in the area. The President also tagged along actor Robin Padilla to provide entertainment to the soldiers. Robinson Niñal Jr./Presidential Photo

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday declared the liberation of besieged Marawi City from terrorists.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I hereby declare Marawi City liberated from the terrorist influence that marks the beginning of rehabilitation,” Duterte said in a speech before troops 148th day into the crisis.

Duterte’s announcement came after Marawi siege leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute were killed in a military operation on Monday dawn. His announcement drew cheers from troops present during his speech.

Marawi City has been besieged by the ISIS-inspired terror group Maute since May 23.

The president declared martial law in the whole of Mindanao to neutralize the local terror group and contain violence in the region. He also suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the region.

Despite the liberation of Marawi City, martial law will take effect until December 2017.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines reported that as of October 16, 824 terrorists were killed, 827 firearms were recovered and 1,771 hostages were rescued. On the part of the government, 162 soldiers were killed and 1,000 others were wounded in action.

AFP chief Eduardo Año earlier said they are still pursuing dozens of fighters in the battlefield including Indonesians and Malaysians.

After the crisis, the AFP said it would be pursuing the Abu Sayyaf group and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters next in a vow to end terrorism in Mindanao.

Related:

Inside Isil’s forgotten outpost in the Philippines

October 10, 2017

A soldier stands guard in Marawi

For years it has been Islamic State’s forgotten outpost, but the perils of ignoring Isil’s growing influence in the Philippines came to the fore this weekend when a Filipino doctor was charged with plotting terrorist attacks in New York.

Russell Salic, 37, an orthopaedic surgeon from the restive southern Philippine island of Mindanao, home to a decades-old Muslim separatist insurgency and extremist Isil-linked groups, has been accused by the US of attempting in 2016 to fund bombings in Times Square and the New York metro.

The Philippine Justice Secretary confirmed on Sunday that he would be extradited. He faces a life sentence after an FBI sting revealed he tried to transfer funds to two accomplices in American who wanted to create “the next 9/11.”

Counter-terrorism analysts have frequently warned that a prolonged humanitarian crisis in Mindanao – a province afflicted by clan warfare, Islamic…

Read the rest behind paywall:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/10/08/dispatch-inside-isils-forgotten-outpost-philippines/

‘Strong’ Philippine priest smiles after IS hostage ordeal ends

September 18, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by Mynardo MACARAIG | Catholic priest Father Teresito Suganob (2nd L) was taken hostage along with about 13 parishioners from a local cathedral in Marawi city

MANILA (AFP) – A Catholic priest kidnapped by Islamic State supporters when they seized parts of a southern Philippine city nearly four months ago smiled and declared himself “strong” Monday after escaping.Father Teresito Suganob called for prayers at a press conference at military headquarters in Manila after he was rescued late on Saturday when the military said it overran the militants’ control centre inside a mosque in Marawi city.

“Thank you and I pray for you, God bless you all. Pray for me, for my recovery,” said Suganob, 51, as he smiled and waved to reporters.

In a jocular mood despite his ordeal, the heavily bearded but apparently well-fed Suganob declared: “I am physically strong and handsome. That’s it for now.”

Hundreds of gunmen rampaged through Marawi, the main Muslim city in the mostly Catholic Philippines, on May 23 and then occupied key districts in what authorities said was an attempt to establish a Southeast Asian base for IS in the Philippines.

More than 850 people have been killed and large parts of Marawi destroyed in the ensuing fighting, which has seen the gunmen defy a US-backed military campaign that has included heavy bombing.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte imposed martial law across the southern region of Mindanao in response to the crisis.

Suganob, a parish priest in Marawi commonly known as “Father Chito”, was taken hostage along with about 13 parishioners from a local cathedral on the first day of the fighting.

The militants later released a video showing themselves vandalising the cathedral.

Another video released by his captors in late May showed Suganob standing in the rubble of buildings in Marawi asking President Duterte to withdraw troops and stop the military offensive.

– ‘Prisoners of war’ –

Suganob said at the time that the gunmen were holding 240 “prisoners of war”, including teachers, carpenters and household workers. They were mostly Christians and local tribespeople.

“We want to live another day. We want to live another month,” Suganob said in the video as gunfire was heard in the distance.

One escaped hostage later told authorities that Suganob had been forced to serve as a cook for the militants, according to the then-military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jo-ar Herrera in early July.

This was one of many reports that the militants were forcing their hostages to work as slaves.

Authorities said the hostages’ roles included carrying the gunmen’s food and ammunition, serving as stretcher-bearers for their wounded, collecting munitions and even acting as human shields.

Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters that Suganob and another hostage, a 29-year-old male school teacher surnamed Acopio, were able to escape late on Saturday night as the militants pulled out of a mosque following hours of fighting.

“As the intensity of the armed confrontation continued to escalate in favour of our troops and as the terrorists were busy repelling the attack, our troops had the opportunity to snatch Father Chito and Mr Acopio,” Lorenzana said.

Lorenzana and military chiefs described Saturday’s overrunning of the mosque and another building that had been used by the militants as important victories, and predicted an end to the crisis soon.

“It is close, our soldiers on the ground are saying that we are near to finishing,” Lorenzana said.

Nevertheless they conceded many obstacles remained, including improvised explosive devices and secret tunnels where the militants were hiding other hostages.

“The Bato mosque, underneath there are a lot of intricate tunnels and secret chambers so we are actually clearing those chambers and there are hostages in there,” military chief Eduardo Ano said.

Military spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla said that 673 militants, 47 civilians and 149 soldiers had been killed in the fighting.

He said there were 40 to 60 hostages and that some were still being forced to fight with the gunmen.

There were up to 80 fighters on the IS side but they could include some of the hostages, according to Padilla.

by Mynardo MACARAIG
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Related:
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Priest rescued as Philippine troops retake parts of Marawi — “Our troops gained the upper hand, the terrorists were forced to withdraw”

September 18, 2017
Image may contain: 5 people
Marawi’s vicar-general Father Teresito “Chito” Soganub waves to the media and soldiers at a military camp, after soldiers rescued him from the Islamic State-linked rebels stronghold in Marawi, during a news conference in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines September 18, 2017. REUTERS/Dondi Tawatao

MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine troops rescued a catholic priest held hostage for almost four months by Islamic State-linked rebels after an offensive that captured a stronghold of the militants in southern Marawi City, defense officials said on Monday.

Marawi’s vicar-general Father Teresito “Chito” Soganub was kidnapped along with other Christians as militants rampaged through the city on May 23, burning churches and schools, releasing prisoners and seizing arms in a well-planned assault.

Soganub, flanked by Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and military chief General Eduardo Ano, appeared to be in good health and high spirits when he was presented to the media in Manila. He expressed his thanks but gave no statement.

“Our troops gained the upper hand, the terrorists were forced to withdraw to nearby structures on the periphery of the mosque,” Lorenzana told a media briefing in Manila, referring to the Bato mosque held by the rebels for 117 days.

“Troops had opportunity to snatch Father Chito…”

The appearance of Soganub is some rare good news for a military that has suffered a string of setbacks in Marawi, from deadly accidents during a controversial campaign of air strikes to repeatedly missing deadlines on when the battle would be won.

The siege of the city by an alliance of rebels from the island of Mindanao, and numerous foreign fighters, has been the biggest internal security crisis in years for the Philippines, a country used to separatist and communist rebellions.

Marawi’s vicar-general Father Teresito “Chito” Soganub smiles as he is flanked by Philippine Armed Forces chief Eduardo Ano (L) and Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, after soldiers rescued him from the Islamic State-linked rebels stronghold in Marawi, during a news conference in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines September 18, 2017. REUTERS/Dondi Tawatao

Soganub made an appearance under duress in a militant propaganda video about a week after his capture, urging the government to stop the military operation in Marawi in exchange for sparing lives of hostages.

The priest was among scores held by militants at the Bato mosque, one of Marawi’s largest, which troops captured on Saturday afternoon. He was rescued along with another hostage, Lordvin Ocopio.

Marawi’s vicar-general Father Teresito “Chito” Soganub speaks before the media, after soldiers rescued him from the Islamic State-linked rebels stronghold in Marawi, during a news conference in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines September 18, 2017. REUTERS/Dondi Tawatao

The rebels who laid siege to Marawi are from an extremist faction of the Abu Sayyaf group, led by Isnilon Hapilon, the so-called “emir” of  Southeast Asia, and members of the militant Maute family, which has deep clan connections in the lakeside town and surrounding areas.

Military chief Ano said about 10 foreigners were still in the battle among some 50-60 rebels, who were holding 45-50 hostages.

Hapilon was among those still fighting but several of the Maute brothers were likely dead, Ano added, citing information provided by civilians who escaped and some captured rebels.

As of Monday, 149 members of government forces had died in combat, along with 47 civilians.

More than 670 militants have been killed, according to a military estimate of bodies recovered and targets hit.

Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Writing by Tom Allard and Karen Lema; Editing by Martin Petty & Simon Cameron-Moore

Philippine Army Says Taking Fire From Women, Children in Marawi Battle — Duterte doesn’t see end of Marawi crisis much before December

September 4, 2017

MARAWI CITY, Philippines — Philippine troops fighting Islamic State-linked rebels in a southern city have encountered armed resistance from women and children, the military said on Monday, as troops make a final push to end a conflict that has raged for more than 100 days.

Ground forces were braced for higher casualties amid fierce fighting in Marawi City on the island of Mindanao, where the field of battle has shrank to a small area in a commercial heart infested with snipers, and littered with booby traps.

“We are now in the final phase of our operations and we are expecting more intense and bloody fighting. We may suffer heavier casualties as the enemy becomes more desperate,” Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez, who heads the military in Western Mindanao, told reporters.

He said the number of fighters was diminishing and a small number of women and children, most likely family members of the rebels, were now engaged in combat.

“Our troops in the field are seeing women and children shooting at our troops so that’s why it seems they are not running out of fighters.”

 Image may contain: outdoor

 The Philippine Amy and the Philippine Marines join forces as it stage assault in a terrorists position in Mapandi, Marawi City July 12 as the exchange of gunfire fire reign the area.(Photo by : Richel V. Umel, Inquirer Mindanao)

More than 800 people have been killed in the battle, most of them insurgents, since May 23 when the militants occupied large parts of the predominantly Muslim town.

The battle is the biggest security challenge in years for the mostly Catholic Philippines, even though it has a long history of Muslim separatist rebellion in Mindanao, an island of 22 million people that has been placed under martial law until the end of the year.

The protracted clashes and resilience of the rebels has fanned fears that Philippine groups loyal to Islamic State, and with ties to Indonesian and Malaysian militants, have formed an alliance that is well-organized, funded and armed, and serious about carving out its own territory in Mindanao.

Citing information provided by four hostages who had escaped from the rebels, Galvez said there were some 56 Christian hostages – most of them women – and about 80 male residents may have been forced to take up arms and fight the military.

The fighting was concentrated in an area around a mosque about a quarter of a square kilometer. He said soldiers were taking control of an average 35 buildings a day and at that rate, it could be three weeks before the city was under government control.

Image may contain: one or more people and outdoor

Philippine Marines, backed by a V300 infantry fighting vehicle, cross Mapandi Bridge, a key area in the fighting in Marawi City that has now reached a hundred days. Froilan Gallardo, ABS-CBN News

AIR STRIKES

Fighting in Marawi was intense on Monday, with heavy gunfire and explosions ringing out across the picturesque, lakeside town, the heart of which has been devastated by near-daily government air strikes.

Helicopters circled above to provide air cover for ground troops as fighting raged, with bursts of smoke rising above the skyline as bombs landed on rebel positions.

Galvez said intelligence showed the rebels’ military commander, Abdullah Maute, may have been killed last month in an air strike.

Postings on Facebook and chatter over the past two days on Telegram, a messaging application used by Islamic State and its sympathizers, had carried tributes to Abdullah, referring to him by one of his pseudonyms, he said.

“There is no 100 percent confirmation until we see his cadaver but this is enough to presume he died already,” he said.

The military has contradictory statements about the status of the rebel leaders over the past few months.

Abdullah Maute and brother Omarkhayam are the Middle East-educated leaders of a militant clan known as the Maute group that has gained notoriety in the past two years due to its ability to engage the army for long periods.

Under the name Dawla Islamiya, the Maute group has formed an alliance with Isnilon Hapilon, a leader of a pro-Islamic State faction of another group, Abu Sayyaf.

Galvez said the army’s intelligence indicated both Omarkhayam and Hapilon, Islamic State’s anointed “emir” in Southeast Asia, were still in the Marawi battle.

For a graphic on how main Islamic militant groups in Mindanao evolved, click: http://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/rngs/PHILIPPINES-MILITANTS/010041FJ346/PHILIPPINES-MILITANTS-HISTORY.jpg

For a graphic on Islamic militant strongholds in Mindanao, click: http://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/rngs/PHILIPPINES-MILITANTS/010041BW2VW/PHILIPPINEs-MILITANTS3.jpg

For a graphic on deaths in Marawi, click: http://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/rngs/PHILIPPINES-MILITANTS/010050L81DG/marawi-fatality.jpg

(Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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Duterte sees end of Marawi crisis by December

 / 07:29 AM September 04, 2017

marawi

The Philippine Amy and the Philippine Marines join forces as it stage assault in a terrorists position in Mapandi, Marawi City July 12 as the exchange of gunfire fire reign the area.(Photo by : Richel V. Umel, Inquirer Mindanao)

DAVAO CITY — The Marawi crisis should end soon so that the government can deal with other problems that could erupt into bigger troubles, President Rodrigo Duterte said on Saturday.

Mr. Duterte was referring to the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, whose members are becoming restive over the delay in the passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law in Congress.

“I have until the end of the year to contain this thing,” Mr. Duterte told reporters here late on Saturday after attending the birthday celebration of Davao City Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles.

“You know, the Marawi [crisis] is ending. What’s prolonging it is our effort to save the lives of everybody, including the terrorists if possible. I objected, I ruled out the bombing of mosques because destroying that could mean the destruction of what’s in the soul of Muslims everywhere,” he said.

Mr. Duterte said targeting the mosques could also put the lives of the hostages at risk.

The military said last week the Maute and Abu Sayyaf terrorists holed up in Marawi were still holding about 50 hostages, but on Saturday, the President said he was not sure.

He said the terrorists could kill the hostages at government troops’ first attempt to storm buildings held by the gunmen.

‘We’ll get Hapilon’

Mr. Duterte said he was being cautious “because at the end of the day, I take the blame for everything.”

On Sunday, Malacañang promised that the government would capture Isnilon Hapilon, the leader of the Islamic State-inspired terrorists holed up in Marawi.

Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said the government believed Hapilon, leader of an Abu Sayyaf faction that joined the Maute terror group in attacking Marawi, was still alive and in the city, surrounded by government troops.

Raw information

“We treat numerous reports saying that Hapilon has left Marawi and has been seen openly in Basilan as raw information requiring further validation by the military and various security agencies of [the] government,” he said in a statement.

“Granting Isnilon Hapilon’s whereabouts in Basilan is true, it would mean that he chose to abandon his men as the battle of Marawi nears its final stretch,” Abella said.

But recent military assessment indicated that Hapilon, who has sworn allegiance to the Islamic State jihadist group in the Middle East, is “still very much in Marawi,” he added. —With a report from Philip C. Tubeza in Manila

Read more: http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/927722/duterte-sees-end-of-marawi-crisis-by-december#ixzz4rhAylnf9
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Philippine Troops in Tough Push in Marawi; Three Dead, 52 Hurt

September 1, 2017

MANILA — Philippine troops have fought one of their toughest clashes against militants loyal to Islamic State in a southern town, and three soldiers were killed and 52 wounded, many by rebel bombs as they pushed forward, an officer said on Friday.

The Islamists shocked the country by seizing large parts of Marawi town in May. After more than 100 days of fighting, pockets of fighters remain dug in in the ruins.

The army made its push on Thursday, the eve of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, and seized a bridge in what military spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla described as some of the toughest fighting yet.

At least five militants were killed, he said.

“We are working to clear the remaining areas where the enemy is holding out,” Padilla said in a statement.

“Following a short pause early today, to give due respect to the solemnity and significance of this day, the operations will continue without any let up,” he said, referring to the Muslim holiday.

 Image result for news for marawi, philippines, photos
FILE PHOTO

The military has expressed confidence the end is in sight for what has been its biggest security crisis in years, which started in May, but the latest casualties underscore the difficulty that they still face in the battlefield.

In all, 620 militants, 45 civilians and 136 soldiers and policemen have been killed in the fighting that has displaced hundreds of thousands of people and raised fears about Islamic State establishing a foothold in Southeast Asia.

The military has missed repeated targets and deadlines to crush the rebels in Marawi, a largely Muslim town on the southern island of Mindanao, raising questions about whether it can contain a wider rebellion.

President Rodrigo Duterte, who placed all of Mindanao under martial law until the end of the year after the militants occupied Marawi, has urged lawmakers to approve funds to beef up the army by 20,000 troops.

On Friday, Duterte said he saw no reason to lift martial law in Mindanao, citing violence in other parts of the island.

“The way it looks, there seems to be some spillover,” he said, without elaborating.

Muslim rebels in the south of the predominately Christian Philippines have for generations battled for greater autonomy but in recent years hopes for peace were raised with several factions engaged in talks.

But the Marawi fighting has dimmed those hopes.

For an interactive on battle for Marawi, click: http://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/rngs/PHILIPPINES-ATTACK/010041F032X/index.html

(Reporting by Enrico dela Cruz; Additional reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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Duterte contradicts earlier statement to bomb Marawi mosque

In this June 9, 2017 photo, a mosque in Marawi City is silhouetted against a setting sun. File

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday said that he advised the military against bombing a mosque in Marawi City where Islamist fighters were believed to be holding dozens of hostages, a remark that contradicts a statement he gave early this week giving the Armed Forces the option to attack the Muslim place of worship to end the siege already more than 100 days old.

Duterte on Wednesday said that during his last visit to Marawi, the country’s only Islamic city, he told the military that bombing the mosque was up to them as the country could not afford to have a stalemate for a long period of time.

“Yung the last time I was there, that would be around five days ago, six days ago, I finally said na ano, ‘The option is already yours because we cannot have a stalemate for over one year,’” he said in a speech.

The president also detailed that night his earlier apprehension over the bombing of the mosque as it could fuel anger among the town’s residents who were already resentful because their property and houses had already been destroyed by the AFP’s air and ground assaults.

He said such an offensive would virtually sacrifice the lives of the hostages still in Maute’s hands.

“Matagal na ‘yan sa on deck na talagang gusto bobombahin ang mosque to capture or kill the leaders there and in the process, sacrifice ‘yung mga hostage who are all Filipinos, maybe Maranaos and a mingling of Christians, Tagalog, nandiyan. Kung gusto na nilang lusubin noon, sabi ko, “Ayaw ko’,” the president said.

As Muslims celebrate their Feast of the Sacrifice, one of their holiest celebrations, on Friday, Duterte swung back to his previous position on the issue, this time in front of the soldiers of the Eastern Mindanao Command.

Duterte said that that he had been consistently against the bombing even if he had left the crafting of the military strategy with the AFP’s generals and commanders.

He said that he had told the military’s generals that bombing the mosque would foment hatred among the resident already reeling from the displacement caused by the most serious security problem to confront Duterte so far.

The military also could not sacrifice the welfare of the civilians, Duterte claimed to have told his generals.

“Sinabi ko sa mga top echelons we cannot destroy the mosques because that will forever wala na katapusan ang hatred dyan,” he told soldiers. “But what will give us in terms of good will? We would have wounded the feelings of the entire Muslim world.”

The president also discussed how he grieved over reports of deaths of military personnel every night, saying that it was difficult for him to face families left behind by men killed in the conflict.

He said: “Ako yung nandun, ako yung sinasalubong ng yakap pati iyak.”

The chief executive also challenged his critics who had been advocating a different approach to the conflict labeled by one expert as the most serious terror event to have struck Southeast Asia in the past 15 years.

“I hope the time will come na sila talaga. Tingnan natin kung maganda yang suggestion nila. There is another way to fight ISIS let alone Maute,” he said, describing the radical group as an organization “geared to the destruction of mankind.”

The conflict in Marawi has highlighted the security challenge the Philippines and its neighboring countries face as the specter of a so-called Islamic State province looms in the horizon.

It has also highlighted the deficiency of the Philippine military, especially in waging urban warfare, according to a regional security expert, as well as the possibility of more fighters joining the rebellion as the credibility of Isnilon Hapilon, the group’s appointed regional leader, is enhanced.

http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2017/09/01/1734851/duterte-contradicts-earlier-statement-bomb-marawi-mosque

Australia offers to train Philippine troops in IS fight

August 29, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | Philippine Marines taking cover from sniper fire while on patrol at the frontline in Marawi on the southern island of Mindanao

SYDNEY (AFP) – Australia Tuesday offered to help train the Philippines military to tackle Islamic militants terrorising parts of the country, calling the threat “deeply concerning”.Philippine forces have been besieging militants in the southern city of Marawi for almost 100 days. But the gunmen, flying the Islamic State group’s black flag, have defied military assaults including airstrikes and artillery barrages.

Australia, which has an extensive defence cooperation program with Manila, has already deployed two high-tech AP-3C Orion aircraft for surveillance, and is keen to provide further help.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said she recently spoke to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte who wanted to bolster resources for his armed forces.

“We would be ready to support the Philippines in the same way we are supporting Iraq in advising, assisting and training,” she said.

“We indicated what we have been doing in Iraq. I went through with the president in some detail the support we have given in Iraq, that does not include troops on the ground. That is advising and assisting.”

Australia is part of the coalition fighting the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, with 780 defence personnel based in the Middle East.

Bishop said it was “deeply concerning” for the entire Asian region that Islamic State had a presence in the southern Philippines, with the United States, Malaysia and Indonesia also offering support.

Duterte declared martial law across Mindanao island, home to 20 million people, on May 23 immediately after fighters flying the IS flag rampaged through Marawi.

Their assault on the city ignited an unprecedented urban war, which Duterte has warned is part of an IS campaign to establish a base in Mindanao.