Tuesday December 12, 2017
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Islamic State spreads its wings in South East Asia

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In this image taken from a video filmed by the Abu Sayyaf Group and released by the Islamic State extremist group, militants swear allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi at a ceremony in Basilan, Sulu Archipelago, Philippines. Photo Courtesy: International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, Singapore

The Islamic State (IS) likely will create a branch in the Philippines and declare the southern island of Mindanao a Wilayat (province) in 2016.

After various local militant groups spent a year in 2014-15 discussing pledges of allegiance to the self-appointed caliph of IS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, they united and formed a council of representatives (Ahlus Shura) that appointed Isnilon Totoni Hapilon as the overall leader of an IS branch in the Philippines.

Hapilon heads the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Basilan, an island-province that lies off Mindanao.

Al-Naba, an official IS newspaper, reported about the unification of at least four groups (“battalions’) of God’s fighters (“mujahidin”) in the southern Philippines, and referred to Hapilon as “Sheikh Mujahid Abu Abdullah al-Filipini.”

It described him as of “one of the senior figures of the Mujahideen in the Philippines.”

“His jihad against the Crusaders began more than 20 years ago when he was a leader in the Abdul Razaq Abu Bakr Al-Janjalani Movement, commonly known as Abu Sayyaf Group. He was the Amir of Abu Sayyaf Group in Basilan for five years before he became the deputy leader for six years,” al-Naba said.

The choice of a highly experienced and a notorious leader in Hapilon to lead IS’s future province in the Philippines presents a long-term threat to the stability and the security of Southeast Asia.

An oath in the jungle

In January 2016, IS announced the unification of four of these battalions in the Philippines and the allegiance of their leaders to al-Baghdadi.

The four battalions are Ansar al-Shariah, Ma’rakah al-Ansar, Ansarul Khilafah Philippines, and al- Harakatul al-Islamiyyah, which is based in Basilan.

Abu Anas al-Mujahir, who leads Ansar al-Shariah, represented the various battalions as they took an oath in which they swore allegiance to IS’s caliph.

Abu Anas Al Muhajir is a Malaysian who is also known as Mohammad bin Najib bin Hussein. His battalion is in charge of laws and other matters pertaining to jurisprudence. He intentionally did not mask himself during the oath ceremony, which was videotaped.

Considering the importance given to a Malaysian by Hapilon, the ASG leader, Malaysians are likely to travel to Mindanao to join IS.

Ma’rakah al-Ansar battalion leader Abu Ammar could not attend the event, but sent someone in his place. Abu Harith, who represented the battalion in Ammar’s absence, is from Sulu, where ASG supremo Radulan Sahiron is based. Sulu is an island in the Sulu Archipelago between Mindanao in the Philippines and Sabah in Malaysia.

The appearance of Abu Harith, a former ASG member, reflected a split within the ASG, in which a small but important faction had defected to IS.

In addition to ASG, a new group, Ansarul Khilafah Philippines, joined the Islamic State. Based in South Cotabato province, Sarangani province and General Santos City, Ansarul Khilafah Philippines is headed by Abu Sharifah, who is fluent in Tagalog.

A total of 31 armed Filipinos and Malaysians met in Basilan and took part in the ceremonial oath presided over by Hapilon. Previously, the four battalions had pledged to serve IS individually, not collectively.

In addition to members of Ansarul Khilafah Philippines and the Malaysians, most of those present were members of the ASG. Its ranking members who were on hand included Talha Tanadjalin, an experienced combat tactician and the brother of Suhud Tanadjani, the sniper-trainer for the Basilan-based ASG.

After Hapilon and his group pledged allegiance to al-Baghdadi, IS publicized the event in the Philippines.

“The unification of the Mujahideen under one leadership and banner of the Caliphate is seen as a huge threat to the tyrants of the Philippines and is an important step in order to liberate areas in Southeast Asia in general. It has a huge significance in the spreading of tawhid (monotheism) in the region, fighting the Christians, Buddhists and other polytheists as well as establishing the religion of Allah in this part of the world,” IS announced through al-Naba and online dissemination of the video of the mass oath-taking ceremony in Basilan.

“The Philippines is an archipelago that consists of many islands located in the Pacific Ocean. For centuries, it was occupied by the Christian Dutch and Americans who forced many of the inhabitants to revoke Islam and embrace Christianity,” IS said.

“Today, the Christians govern the Philippines and its capital Manila. Nevertheless, jihadi movements have spread in the country’s various remote islands, and jihad against the Christians has continued for decades.”

A potential regional threat

Since 2014, the Islamic State has engaged the threat groups in the Philippines with the aim of building an ideological and operational capability in the region.

With preparations now under way to proclaim an IS branch in the southern Philippines, IS’s influence and ideology is likely to grow, affecting both the southern Philippines and eastern Malaysia.

Furthermore, IS will likely create a safe haven in Basilan and mount operations from the Sulu Archipelago into both the Philippines and Malaysia.

In addition to enforcing the supplanting of the local practice of Islam by IS’s radical interpretation of the religion, IS-type beheadings and attacks bringing mass casualties and fatalities are likely.

The most enduring threat will be the creation of terrorist training camps, which will lure not only Southeast Asians but people from other regions. Recent developments indicate that Uyghurs who could not travel to Syria to join al-Nusra or IS in the Middle East travelled to Indonesia.

The nationalities undertaking training in the new IS province will pose a threat to their home countries. Since 1994, when Jemaah Islamiyah established its first training camp, Hudaibiyah, the Philippines became the training ground for Indonesians, Malaysians, Singaporeans, Thai Muslims and Arabs.

Most of the instructors were non-Filipinos trained by al-Qaeda. In addition to moving its officers to implement the IS brand of Islam, it is very likely that IS will dispatch its explosives experts, combat tacticians and other operatives to Southeast Asia.

IS plans for declaring a state for itself in Mindanao presents a real threat to the stability and security of Asia, a region that has hitherto enjoyed political stability, social harmony and economic growth.

Philippine response

For its part, the government of the Philippines made significant gains in engaging the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in a peace process that proved a success. However, the ASG and a few smaller groups continue to fight to create an independent Moro homeland.

The Philippines lacks political leadership and military operational capability needed to dismantle the insurgent and terrorist infrastructure in Mindanao, especially in the Sulu archipelago.

The IS-initiated merger of the various battalions and the unification of their leaders will present an unprecedented challenge to the government in Manila. In their new role as the “soldiers of the Caliphate” in the Philippines, the local IS branch will mount operations that gradually will mirror the core of IS in Syria and Iraq.

There is no better time for the Philippines to act.

But if President Aquino procrastinates as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, IS ideology will spread in his country, damaging a commendable and hard-won peace process.

The four “battalions” of IS will grow in strength, size and influence, as well as and pose an enduring challenge to his successors. Soon, IS will declare a satellite of the caliphate in Sulu.

Ideally, Aquino should try and preempt such a declaration by IS. To win Muslim hearts and minds and undercut Muslim support for IS, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) should pursue a mandate of promoting economic development in impoverished Basilan and its surrounding areas, rather focusing its strategy solely on isolating and eliminating the Abu Sayyaf Group.

Finally, to preempt the imminent declaration of an IS Wilayat in the Philippines and a local branch of IS, the Philippine military should deploy in strength in Sulu, Basilan and Tawi Tawi.

If the armed forces of the Philippines can dominate the Sulu Archipelago, IS will fail in declaring, operating and expanding an satellite province in the country and a base in Southeast Asia.

The story has been published with permission from BenarNews

  • Shriya Katoch

    This is horrifying.
    The people of the world need to combine to destroy these terrorists.

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We Will make you Zero To Hero: This is how Jihadist ISIS Lures Western potential Recruits

The Chicago Project on Security and Threats has concluded that ISIS often targets Western recruits with heroic outcomes

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ISIS actively Lures Recruits from the West for its Jihadi Agenda
FILE - Fighters from the Islamic State group parade in Raqqa, north Syria, June 30, 2014. VOA

Beyond the slick, Hollywood-style cinematics, the Islamic State is targeting Western recruits with videos suggesting they, too, can be heroes like Bruce Willis’ character in Die Hard.

That’s the conclusion of The Chicago Project on Security and Threats, which analyzed some 1,400 videos released by IS between 2013 and 2016. Researchers who watched and catalogued them all said there is more to the recruitment effort than just sophisticated videography, and it’s not necessarily all about Islam.

Instead, Robert Pape, who directs the security center, said the extremist group is targeting Westerners — especially recent Muslim converts — with videos that follow, nearly step-by-step, a screenwriter’s standard blueprint for heroic storytelling.

ISIS targets Western recruits with Hollywood style heroism
Islamic State is recruiting Westerns by using Hollywood-style cinematics, like that seen in the story of “Wonder Woman,” in which a character learns his or her own powers through the course of their reluctant journey to be hero. VOA

“It’s the heroic screenplay journey, the same thing that’s in Wonder Woman, where you have someone who is learning his or her own powers through the course of their reluctant journey to be hero,” Pape said.

Heroic storytelling

The project at the University of Chicago separately has assembled a database of people who have been indicted in the United States for activities related to IS. Thirty-six percent were recent converts to Islam and did not come from established Muslim communities, according to the project. Eighty-three percent watched IS videos, the project said.

Bruce Willis in movie Die Hard 4.0
FILE – U.S. actor Bruce Willis poses for the photographers during a photo call for his new movie “Die Hard 4.0” in Berlin, Germany, June 18, 2007. VOA

The group’s success in using heroic storytelling is prompting copycats, Pape said. The research shows al-Qaida’s Syria affiliate has been mimicking IS’ heroic narrative approach in its own recruitment films. “We have a pattern that’s emerging,” Pape said.

Intelligence and law enforcement officials aren’t sure the approach is all that new. They say IS has been using any method that works to recruit Westerners. Other terrorism researchers think IS’ message is still firmly rooted in religious extremism.

Rita Katz, director of SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks messaging by militant groups, agrees that IS makes strong, visual appeals resembling Hollywood movies and video games, making its media operation more successful than al-Qaida’s. And IS videos can attract hero wannabes, she said.

“However, these features of IS media are only assets to a core message it uses to recruit,” Katz said. “At the foundation of IS recruitment propaganda is not so much the promise to be a Hollywood-esque hero, but a religious hero. There is a big difference between the two.”

Promise of martyrdom

When a fighter sits in front of a camera and calls for attacks, Katz said, he will likely frame it as revenge for Muslims killed or oppressed somewhere in the world. The message is designed to depict any terror attack in that nation as justified and allow the attacker to die as a martyr, she said.

The promise of religious martyrdom is powerful to anybody regardless of whether they are rich or poor, happy or unhappy, steeped in religion or not at all, she said.

Pape said he knows he’s challenging conventional wisdom when he says Westerners are being coaxed to join IS ranks not because of religious beliefs, but because of the group’s message of personal empowerment and Western concepts of individualism.

How else can one explain Western attackers’ loose connections to Islam, or their scarce knowledge of IS’s strict, conservative Sharia law, he asked. IS is embracing, not rejecting, Western culture and ideals, to mobilize Americans, he said.

“This is a journey like Clint Eastwood,” Pape said, recalling Eastwood’s 1970s performance in High Plains Drifter about a stranger who doles out justice in a corrupt mining town. “When Clint Eastwood goes in to save the town, he’s not doing it because he loves them. He even has contempt for the people he’s saving. He’s saving it because he’s superior,” Pape said.

“That’s Bruce Willis in Die Hard. That’s Wonder Woman. … Hollywood has figured out that’s what puts hundreds of millions in theater seats,” Pape said. “IS has figured out that’s how to get Westerners.”

12-step guide

Pape said the narrative in the recruitment videos targeting westerners closely tracks Chris Vogler’s 12-step guide titled “The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers.” The book is based on a narrative identified by scholar Joseph Campbell that appears in drama and other storytelling.

Step No. 1 in Vogler’s guide is portraying a character in his “ordinary world.”

An example is a March 25, 2016, video released by al-Qaida’s Syria branch about a young British man with roots in the Indian community. It starts: “Let us tell you the story of a real man … Abu Basir, as we knew him, came from central London. He was a graduate of law and a teacher by profession.”

Vogler’s ninth step is about how the hero survives death, emerging from battle to begin a transformation, sometimes with a prize.

In the al-Qaida video, the Brit runs through sniper fire in battle. He then lays down his weapon and picks up a pen to start his new vocation blogging and posting Twitter messages for the cause.

‘Zero to hero’

Matthew Levitt, a terrorism expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says it doesn’t surprise him that IS would capitalize on what he dubs the “zero to hero” strategy because the organization is very pragmatic and accepts recruits regardless of their commitment to Islamic extremism.

Heroic aspirations are only one reason for joining the ranks of IS, he said. Criminals also seek the cover of IS to commit crimes. Others sign up because they want to belong to something.

“I’ve never seen a case of radicalization that was 100 percent one way or the other,” Levitt said. (VOA)

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Donald Trump Planning to meet Putin during his Asia tour

Donald Trump's first trip to Asia is the longest international tour.

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US President Donald Trump
US President Donald Trump. wikimedia commns
  • US President Donald Trump said on Sunday that he expected to meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin during his Asia tour.

“I think it’s expected we’ll meet with Putin, yeah. We want Putin’s help on North Korea, and we’ll be meeting with a lot of different leaders,” Donald Trump told reporters on Air Force One before landing at the Yokota Air Base in Japan, Efe reported.

Putin is scheduled to participate in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Da Nang, Vietnam, which Trump will also attend as part of his long Asia tour.

The North Korean nuclear threat is expected to dominate Donald Trump’s meetings in Japan and the next two stages of his tour, South Korea and China, where he will have a highly anticipated sit-down with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The remainder of the tour will be more focused on economic issues, with Trump scheduled to take part in the APEC meeting in Da Nang and then in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and the East Asia Summit in the Philippines.

Donald Trump’s first trip to Asia is the longest international tour by a US head of state since the one then-President George H.W. Bush embarked on in 1992.

Bush became ill at the end of that trip, famously vomiting on the Japanese prime minister’s lap at a formal dinner before fainting.(IANS)

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US Backtracks on Iraqi, Kurd Cease-fire Claim

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An Iraqi soldier removes a Kurdish flag from Altun Kupri
An Iraqi soldier removes a Kurdish flag from Altun Kupri on the outskirts of Irbil, Iraq. VOA

Iraq, October 27: The U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State announced Friday morning a cease-fire between Iraqi forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga in Northern Iraq but quickly backtracked on the claim, saying it is not an “official” cease-fire.

Army spokesman Ryan Dillon posted a clarification on Twitter to say “both parties (are) talking with one another,” but that a “cease-fire” had not been reached.

The Iraqi military and the Kurdish minority have been clashing for several weeks after the Iraqi troops moved to secure areas in northern Iraq that had been seized from IS jihadists by Kurdish forces. The Kurdish forces abandoned the land largely without resistance, though low-level clashes have been reported.

Iraqi PM rejects Kurdish offer

The areas Iraqi forces are moving into were mostly under Baghdad’s control in 2014, when Islamic State militants swept into the region. Kurdish Peshmerga and coalition forces recaptured the lands, and the Kurdistan Region has since held them.

The Iraqi leadership said it is retaking the areas to establish federal authority after a Kurdish referendum for independence in September threatened the nation’s unity. More than 92 percent of Kurds in Iraq voted “yes” in a vote Baghdad called illegal, and the international community leaders said was dangerous and ill-timed.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Thursday rejected an offer by Kurdish leaders to freeze the results of their independence referendum in favor of dialogue in order to avoid further conflict.

The Kurdistan Regional Government, in a statement, said the confrontations have hurt both sides and could lead to ongoing bloodshed and social unrest in Iraq.

“Certainly, continued fighting does not lead any side to victory, but it will drive the country towards disarray and chaos, affecting all aspects of life,” the KRG said.

‘Unified Iraq is the only way to go’

Abadi said in a statement his government will accept only the annulment of the referendum and respect for the constitution.

During a briefing Friday morning at the Pentagon, Joint Staff Director Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie Jr. told reporters the U.S. believes “a unified Iraq is the only way to go forward.”

He added, “We’re not helping anyone attack anyone else inside Iraq, either the Kurds or the Iraqis.”(VOA)