Thursday, 1 June 2017

PHILIPPINES: Foreign Terrorists Killed In Marawi

At least eight foreign terrorists have been killed in besieged Marawi City as residents reported seeing "foreign-looking" fighters joining gunfights against state forces, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Thursday.

Lorenzana said the military has so far identified 2 Malaysians, 2 Saudis, 2 Indonesians, a Yemeni, and a Chechen as among those killed in the siege, which started Tuesday last week.

Government had earlier reported that six foreigners, among them Malaysians and Indonesians, were among terrorists slain in government operations.

The report we got from the civilians from Marawi is they saw a lot of foreign-looking fighters, the defense chief said.

There could be more that we killed that we have not identified, he added.

Lorenzana said 95 terrorists have been killed in the clashes, with 33 already identified.

The defense chief said foreigners who were fighting alongside local terror groups Maute and Abu Sayyaf could have entered the country through the southern backdoor.

The participation of foreign terrorists in the Marawi fighting lends credence to long-running reports that the Islamic State was trying to establish a foothold in Asia through the Philippines as it dealt with losses in Iraq and Syria.

Philippine intelligence said that of the 400-500 marauding fighters who overran Marawi City, as many as 40 had recently come from overseas, including from countries in the Middle East.

The source said they included Indonesians, Malaysians, at least one Pakistani, a Saudi, a Chechen, a Yemeni, an Indian, a Moroccan and one man with a Turkish passport.

Lorenzana’s revelation also confirms the research finding of security expert Rohan Gunaratna that foreign fighters were killed in the clashes.

This indicates that foreign terrorist fighters form an unusually high component of the IS fighters and emerging IS demography in Southeast Asia,Gunaratna said.

According to an intelligence brief authorities in Jakarta believe 38 Indonesians travelled to the southern Philippines to join Islamic State-affiliated groups, and about 22 of them joined the fighting in Marawi City.

However, an Indonesian law-enforcement source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the actual number of Indonesians involved in the battle could be more than 40.

Lorenzana said about 50 to 100 militants remained holed up in Marawi City, and that efforts were now underway to flush them out, with the Philippine Marines sending up to 400 of its men to neutralize continuing resistance in the city.

Some of them have already started to rejoin their barangays. They are going to their former places, he said.

President Rodrigo Duterte on May 23 placed Mindanao under martial following the clashes.

Violence erupted in the city after government troops attempted to arrest top Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon. The terror leader, considered as the Islamic State’s point man in Southeast Asia, managed to evade arrest.

Lorenzana, however, said Hapilon remains in Marawi City.

A military helicopter unleashed more rockets on positions held by the rebels in Marawi City on Thursday, marking the 10th day of the crisis that has triggered martial rule in all of Mindanao island.

The airstrike came some 2 hours after the rumble of cannons and gunfire clattered throughout the city.

President Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao on Tuesday last week, when the hardline Maute and Abu Sayyaf laid siege to Marawi after the government attempted but failed to arrest terror leader Isnilon Hapilon.

Government forces have since retaken 90 percent of Marawi, but the rebels had kept up the fight with rifles and ammunition stolen from a police station, a prison, and an armored police vehicle, military spokesman Restituto Padilla said Wednesday.

The crisis has claimed the lives of 129 people, including 89 militants, 21 security forces and 19 civilians.

The government on Wednesday said another rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) had agreed to help get civilians out of Marawi and had accepted Duterte's unconventional offer for communists, separatists and the military to unite against radical Islam.

At least 164 people have died in clashes between government security forces and terrorists in the southern city of Marawi, the military said Thursday.

Among the fatalities were 120 Abu Sayyaf and Maute fighters, 25 government troops and 19 civilians, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Col. Edgar Arevalo said in a phone interview with radio DZMM.

Arevalo added that about 966 civilians have been rescued from war zones while 98 high-powered firearms were seized from militants.

Earlier Thursday, the military marked the 10th day of the crisis by unleashing more rockets on the positions held by the hardline Maute and Abu Sayyaf.

There are still some areas held by the rebels and they are preventing soldiers and policemen from extracting civilians.

The militants laid siege to Marawi on Tuesday after the government attempted to arrest terror leader Isnilon Hapilon, promting President Rodrigo Duterte to place Mindanao under martial rule.

Government forces have since retaken 90 percent of Marawi, but the rebels had kept up the fight with rifles and ammunition stolen from a police station, a prison, and an armored police vehicle, military spokesman Restituto Padilla said Wednesday.

The government said another rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) had agreed to help get civilians out of Marawi and had accepted Duterte's unconventional offer for communists, separatists and the military to unite against radical Islam.

Soldiers, military trucks and checkpoints have become a regular sight in this city just about 30 kilometers from conflict-torn Marawi, as martial law remains in effect in Mindanao.

This city south of the Philippines has been a place of refuge for most Marawi City residents escaping clashes between government forces and terrorists, where more than a hundred people, including at least 19 civilians have been killed.

Checkpoints mounted by both the police and military on different entry and exit points in Iligan City have been very strict, requiring passengers on almost every vehicle to come out for inspection.

Despite increased visibility of security forces in this city, residents continued to go about their daily lives, trying to go on business as usual but with a heavy heart.

A businesswoman, said her relatives from Marawi City have been staying at their home here since the fighting erupted.

She broke into tears while sharing how sad she felt seeing her loved ones down, when they were supposed to be happy at the start of Ramadan.

I don't ask them questions but I know they are worried. Actually, they already want to go back to check on their properties, but it's really hard to get caught up in the situation there.

Lisa manages her husband's gasoline station in Iligan City. They usually open 24 hours, but because martial law has been in effect, they must close shop before 10:00 p.m., the start of the six-hour curfew.

Just like Lisa's gasoline station, other establishments like restaurants, cafes, pharmacies and other businesses usually operating round-the-clock or until late at night have to close early, usually by 9:00 p.m.

Employees who live far from their workplace have to rush to get a ride home quickly as public utility drivers also hurry back to their garages.

At the Iligan City Police Headquarters, cops in full battle gear would get ready at 9:30 p.m. for the "rekoridos," or their nightly rounds on the city's busiest streets to remind residents of the curfew.

Eye witnesses saw people on foot or in their vehicles trying to beat the 10:00 p.m. curfew. As 10:00 p.m. neared, random police checkpoints began to appear on the streets.

The team caught up with cops conducting searches on vehicles passing by an intersection, where the night scene would have been alive if not for martial law.

PO2 Cryster John Biaoco, one of the officers conducting the searches, said this martial law was different from the military rule during the Marcos regime, as the implementation gave consideration to the people.

Some people are just coming out from work so we're giving them consideration. If it's 10:00 p.m., we'll still call their attention. But if they can present an ID, we'll let them go. But those who could not present any identification, we bring them to the station.

The Iligan City Police said they would only hold curfew violators in the headquarters until morning, but explained that those rounded up are not detained.

Most of the residents said they were okay with the curfew so far, as they felt more secure amid the conflict in Marawi City. This even as some admitted that they would feel a little worried whenever they saw military trucks and soldiers around the city.

Just last Sunday, as the Marawi clashes entered its sixth day, security forces enforced stricter searches for people coming from the conflict-stricken city, as reports surfaced that terrorists were trying to blend in with the evacuees going to Iligan.

Alex Aduca, chief of the Philippine Army's 4th Mechanized Infantry Battalion, said evacuees would be sent to "consolidation and processing areas" as the military enforced stricter measures to prevent a spillover of the Marawi conflict.