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Maute group’s capabilities “significantly degraded” — AFP

by UNTV News   |   Posted on Saturday, June 17th, 2017

FILE PHOTO: AFP spokesperson, Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) does not deny the possibility that some Maute-ISIS terrorist group members were able to escape Marawi City and have gone to Iligan City and Cagayan de Oro.

According to reports, some Maute members may have blended in with the evacuees during the first weeks of the clashes.

However, the military is confident that these individuals can no longer launch attacks or sow great havoc in other places.

“Safe to say, I can tell you, they don’t have the capacity to do what they have done in Marawi anymore,” AFP spokesperson, Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, said in a press briefing.

“Their capabilities have significantly degraded and they have specifically targeted Marawi to sow terror,” he added.

Meanwhile, the military has launched proactive security measures and has been coordinating with local government units.

The military also calls on the public to remain alert and vigilant against suspicious-looking persons and things to prevent enemies from carrying out their evil plans.

Meanwhile, the military also reminds those who are planning to distribute assistance and relief efforts to the residents of Marawi city to coordinate with the local government units before going to the conflict area.

This is after reports that the military allegedly prevented some left-leaning lawmakers from conducting their humanitarian assistance in Marawi City.

“We don’t want anyone getting hit by any of these stray bullets if they go to Marawi itself. So in the interest of safety, we have been working closely with local government and its social welfare arm and health arm to provide the services needed by the evacuees, without necessarily having other people from the outside expose to danger,” explained Padilla. — Rosalie Coz | UNTV News and Rescue


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Alleged new recruits of the Maute group, at least 100 — Col. Brawner

by UNTV   |   Posted on Wednesday, January 31st, 2018

MANILA, Philippines — The military said that the Maute terrorist group is strengthening its force by being able to recruit around 100 new members in Lanao del Sur.

This is in line with the alleged regrouping of the ISIS-inspired Maute terrorist group.

Col. Romeo Brawner Jr., the spokesman of the Joint Task Force Ranao, revealed that the Maute group already has an estimated of around 100 new recruits in the province of Lanao del Sur.

“Wala na ung Maute-ISIS dito sa Marawi pero sa paligid… nagrerecruit sila ngayon sa paligid ng Lanao Lake. It’s just an estimate about a hundred yung na recruit nila,” said the deputy commander.

(The Maute group is no longer in Marawi, but they are still around. They are recruiting members in Lanao lake. It’s just an estimate, they have an estimated of about a hundred recruits.)

Just last week, the government troops battled in various areas which led to the arrest of several Maute group members.

“May encounter last week sa Masho. May encounter sa Pagayawan. May na capture tayong member nila sa Piagapo. We’re doing everything para maging safe ang Marawi,” said the Brawner.

(There was an encounter last week in Masho. There was an encounter Pagayawan. We have captured a member in Piagapo, we’re doing everything to make Marawi City safe.)

Residents are also advised to coordinate with authorities in case they notice anything suspicious in the area.

President Rodrigo Duterte said yesterday the military will no longer allow the entry of terrorist groups in Marawi City. — Rosalie Coz | UNTV News and Rescue

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Davao City declares measles outbreak

by UNTV   |   Posted on Wednesday, January 24th, 2018

The number of individuals with measles in Davao City has climbed to more than 200 since January 6.

MANILA, Philippines — The number of individuals with measles in Davao City has climbed to more than 200 since January 6.

Dr. Josephine Villafuerte said that of the 224 suspected cases, 17 individuals are confirmed to have measles, while four infants aged 6-months old to two years old died due to the said viral disease.

This prompted local government officials to declare a measles outbreak in the entire City.

“Number 1, we know there are more than 400 families who evacuated to Davao City from outside many from Marawi. That’s one matter they saw. The other factors that contribute to the sudden rise, for children are that they are malnourished, their nutrition is not good, their immunity is also not strong. They can easily contract the disease, but this is a communicable disease,” said Villafuerte.

The local government assured Davao City residents of having enough supply of vaccines against measles.

“Rest assured. We have a good government now. The vaccines medicines are readily available. To those who are afraid of  Dengvaxia, well this happened in the previous administration. The doctor said these vaccines will be coming out. Rest assured these are 101 percent safe,” said Councilor Jesus Melchor Quitain Jr.

Around 13,000 children aged five months old to five years old have received the anti-measles vaccine from the health office following the rise in the cases of the viral disease in the city.

Aside from the free house-to-house vaccination and health center based immunization, the local government is now intensifying its awareness campaign against measles in villages and private establishments.

Parents are also advised to immediately bring to the nearest hospital or health center their children who are showing symptoms of the viral disease such as fever, cough and cold, sore throat, and skin rashes to prevent it from worsening. — Leslie Longboen | UNTV News & Rescue

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EXCLUSIVE: Looted cash, gold helps Islamic State recruit in Philippines

by UNTV News   |   Posted on Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018

Community leaders survey damaged houses and buildings inside war-torn Marawi, Philippines January 13, 2018. REUTERS/Tom Allard

MARAWI CITY, Philippines (Reuters) – Islamist insurgents looted cash, gold and jewelry worth tens of millions of dollars when they occupied a southern Philippines town last year, treasure one of their leaders has used to recruit around 250 fighters for fresh attacks.

The military said Humam Abdul Najib escaped from Marawi City, which the militants had hoped to establish as a stronghold for Islamic State in Southeast Asia, before it was recaptured by the military in October after five months of ferocious battles and aerial bombardment.

Since then, Najib, also known as Abu Dar, has used the booty looted from bank vaults, shops and homes in Marawi to win over boys and young men in the impoverished southern province of Lanao del Sur, military officers in the area said. Hardened mercenaries are also joining, lured by the promise of money.

As a result, Islamic State followers remain a potent threat in Southeast Asia even though hundreds of militants were killed in the battle for Marawi, the officers said.

“Definitely they haven’t abandoned their intent to create a caliphate in Southeast Asia,” Colonel Romeo Brawner, the deputy commander of Joint Task Force Marawi, told Reuters.

“That’s the overall objective, but in the meantime while they are still trying to recover and build up again – fighters and weapons – our estimate is they are going to launch terrorist attacks.”

On Saturday, militants wounded eight soldiers in two attacks in Lanao del Sur, Brawner said, the first such violence since the recapture of Marawi.

In the early days of the occupation of Marawi last May, as black-clad fighters burned churches, released prisoners and cut the power supply, other militants targeted banks and the homes of wealthy citizens, commandeering hostages to help with the plunder.

“It was in the first week. They divided us into three groups with seven people each,” said J.R. Montesa, a Christian construction worker who was captured by the militants.

Using explosives, the militants blew open the vaults of the city’s three main banks, Landbank, the Philippine National Bank and the Al Amanah Islamic Bank, Montesa told Reuters in a town near Marawi. They trucked away the booty, easily slipping out of Marawi because a security cordon was not fully in place.

They also raided jewelry stores, pawnshops and businesses.

Landbank and Al Amanah did not respond to requests for comment. Philippine National said recovering losses because of the Marawi fighting was a concern, but did not give details.

The Islamic celebration of Ramadan was looming at the time the militants struck and banks, businesses and homes had more money than usual, said Marawi City police chief Ebra Moxsir. The Maranaos, the ethnic group that dominates the area around Marawi, are mostly Muslims.

“There was a lot of money inside the battle area,” he told Reuters. “Maranaos keep millions of pesos in safety vaults in their homes. Gold, also. It is a tradition of the Maranao to give gifts of money (during Ramadan).”

Montesa said vans they loaded with the spoils of the raids were “overflowing”, with money, gold and other valuables stuffed into every crevice of the vehicles.

“They were saying it was a gift from Allah. They would say ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is greatest) while we were stealing.”

The military and police have also been accused by rights groups and by Marawi residents of looting during the conflict.

Brawner said a small number of soldiers had been disciplined for looting but the practice was not widespread.

However, the center of Marawi – home to its major banks, main market and grandest residences – was under the control of militants for months.

Brawner said authorities were unclear exactly how much was taken by the militants.

“It’s hard for us to say. We have heard about 2 billion pesos ($39.4 million) but that’s just an estimate.”

“In the first days, when we were not able to establish that security cordon around the main battle area, that was the time when they were able to slip out with their war booty.”

The government also said the regrouping of militants in Mindanao, the southern region of the Philippines that has been marred by Islamic and Communist uprisings for decades, was dangerous.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque told Reuters: “There is always the danger of these groups regaining strength enough to mount another Marawi-like operation.”

Najib is believed to have fled Marawi early in the battle. There are conflicting reports about whether he had a dispute with other leaders or left as part of a preconceived plan.

He attempted to return in August with 50-100 more fighters to reinforce the militants, who by then were losing ground, but he was prevented by an improved security cordon, said Brawner.

“According to reports, they were able to recruit another 100 to 150. So the estimate is 250 all in all, and this includes children,” Brawner said. “They are trying to recruit orphans, relatives of the fighters who died and sympathizers.”

Parents of children are offered as much as 70,000 pesos ($1,380) plus a monthly salary of as much as 30,000 pesos ($590) to hand over their sons to the group, according to security sources and community leaders briefed on the recruitment.

The average family income in the Philippines is 22,000 pesos per month, according to a 2015 government survey. It was about half that in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, where Marawi and surrounding areas lie.

Brawner said local residents had told the military that the militant group was also offering bonuses of up to 10,000 pesos ($200) for killing a soldier.

Rommel Banlaoi, a Manila-based security expert, said more experienced fighters had also been recruited. These were “mercenaries” attracted by the payouts, he said, but Najib has also tapped into disaffection among Maranao angered by the destruction of large parts of Marawi by the Philippine military’s bombing campaign.

“That kind of narrative is being used by ISIS to lure people to continue the fight,” Banlaoi said, using an acronym for Islamic State.

With the looted funds and a loyal following, Najib, could become the new “emir” of Islamic State in Southeast Asia following the death of Isnilon Hapilon in the battle for Marawi, security analysts say.

Najib is a hardened fighter and cleric who studied in the Middle East and reportedly trained with militants in Afghanistan, they say.

He co-founded Khalifa Islamiyah Mindanao, an insurgent group formed in about 2012 that launched a series of bombings in Mindanao.

“He is a very, very important person because he has been there from the start,” said Banlaoi.

Najib had links to Al Qaeda, which earned him the nickname “al Zarqawi of the Philippines”, a reference to the slain leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), Abu Musab al Zarqawi. AQI morphed into Islamic State, to which Najib pledged allegiance in 2014.

According to Banlaoi, Najib worked closely with Mahmud Ahmad, a Malaysian militant believed to have died in Marawi who was the key conduit between the Philippines fighters and the Islamic State leadership in Syria and Iraq.

Banlaoi said the recruitment effort by the pro-Islamic State remnants led by Najib was “massive and systematic”.

“If you are well funded, you can do a lot of things.”

Additional reporting by Martin Petty, Neil Jerome Morales and Manuel Mogato; Editing by John Chalmers and Raju Gopalakrishnan

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