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Mario J. Mallari

No established ISIS, BIFF link yet — AFP

Wednesday, 01 October 2014 00:00 Published in Headlines

The military is not discounting possible links between the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) but maintained there is no solid proof yet to confirm the alliance even after the BIFF publicly aired support to ISIS.

Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division (ID) based in Maguindanao, noted that both the BIFF and the ISIS have terrorist orientation that makes an alliance possible.
But Pangilinan maintained that the military has not established that link.
“We believe that is possible…these are terrorist individuals…but we cannot ascertain that,” Pangilinan said.
According to Pangilinan, what the military has monitored is the presence of militants from the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) which is linked to the al-Qaeda terrorist network.
The BIFF is also known to have coddled JI militants like Malaysian Zulkifli bin Abdul Hir, alias Marwan, who is included in the United States list of most wanted terrorists with a $5 million reward.

Pangilinan said government security forces continue to monitor Marwan and Singaporean Mohamad Ali, alias Muawiyah, in Central Mindanao.
“Except for the pronouncement of Abu Misry, we have not monitored any activity by ISIS with this JI group…except their (BIFF) pronouncement that they are supporting ISIS,” said Pangilinan.
Abu Misry is the spokesman of the BIFF, headed by Ameril Umbra Kato, who recently released a video expressing the BIFF’s support to the ISIS which has controlled large areas of Iraq and Syria.
The Army official stressed that there is no proof yet whether there are really BIFF members who had signed up with ISIS.
“There is no concrete proof to that except the pronouncement to the media of Abu Misry that they support and they are aligning themselves with ISIS…except for this, we have no documents to prove that they are with (ISIS),” Pangilinan added.
Former President Ramos and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte have confirmed previously that Muslim Filipinos have flown to the Middle East to fight alongside ISIS, which is now the target of US military offensives.
The Islamic State group’s jihadist appeal is fanning fears that it could serve as a potent new rallying cry for Southeast Asian extremists who had been largely brought to heel following past deadly terror attacks.
Authorities in Indonesia — the world’s most populous Islamic country — and Muslim-majority Malaysia have watched with alarm as scores, possibly even hundreds, of their nationals are believed to have gone to Syria and Iraq to join the fight for a hardline Muslim caliphate.
Terrorism analysts are increasingly concerned that these volunteers could import the organization’s violent ideology upon their return, or inspire supporters back home to carry out deadly attacks.
“There are still many breeding grounds for militancy in parts of the region, and if fighters come back they can strengthen these existing groups, and that’s going to be a major problem,” said Bantarto Bandoro of the Indonesian Defense University.
The Abu Sayyaf group has threatened to decapitate a German hostage taken earlier this year, recalling the grisly IS beheadings of foreign journalists and an aid worker that caused worldwide revulsion and triggered US air strikes.
Abu Sayyaf last week demanded a ransom and that Germany cease support for the strikes. The demands have been refused, with Manila dismissing the ultimatum as a cynical ploy to exploit the notoriety of IS for profit.
But the group’s actions in Iraq and Syria are drawing troubling comparisons to the 1979-89 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, which drew in volunteer Islamic fighters from around the world to fight the Communist “infidels”, including from across Southeast Asia.
The hardened jihadists who returned nurtured a generation of Southeast Asian extremists, helping give rise to groups such as Jemaah Islamiyah, which was responsible for deadly attacks including the 2002 Bali bombing that killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists.
Aggressive Southeast Asian counter-terror efforts have since dramatically weakened JI and other militant groups, but they remain a threat.

Cabunoc named new AFP spokesman

Wednesday, 01 October 2014 00:00 Published in Nation

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) yesterday welcomed a new public affairs officer and spokesman in Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc.
AFP chief of staff Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. handpicked Cabunoc to become chief of the AFP-Public Affairs Office (PAO) and one of the military’s spokesmen.
A member of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) “Bantay Laya” Class of 1994, Cabunoc was the incumbent commander of the AFP’s 7th Civil Relations Group (CRG) operating in Metro Manila.
Prior to his appointment as 7th CRG chief, Cabunoc served as spokesman of the Philippine Army and the 9th Infantry Division (ID).
Aside from his stints to various public affairs offices of the AFP, Cabunoc also served in various First Scout Ranger Regiment units in Mindanao, particularly in Sulu and Basilan, fighting the terrorist Abu Sayyaf group.
Cabunoc is a recipient of numerous military medals and citations, including the Distinguished Conduct Star which is the second highest combat award for bravery. He is also cited by Metrobank as one of The Outstanding Philippine Soldiers in 2004.
Cabunoc will be replaced by Maj. Emmanuel Garcia, incumbent chief of the 1st CRG based in Tarlac City.

Abu’s German hostages air plea for their release

Tuesday, 30 September 2014 00:00 Published in Headlines

The two German captives of Abu Sayyaf yesterday appealed to both the Philippine and German governments to exert all efforts to secure their freedom from the hands of the terrorist group, days after the militants threatened to kill them.

In an interview over radio station RMN-Zamboanga yesterday, Stefan Viktor Okonek, 71, and Herike Diesen, 55, expressed concern over their heath as they cited the hardships they are experiencing under captivity in the jungles.
“I’m suffering a lot because I was taken hostage... now I have to lay on the ground to sleep, get wet from daily rain and my personal medical condition worsened,” said Okonek during the radio interview.

“Hopefully our government will do all they can to set me free,” he added.
Okonek introduced himself as a medical doctor from Germany.
Diesen, for his part, said: “I also like to address the Philippine and German governments to do all they can because I really miss to be with my family again and the situation here is very, very stressful.”
“We are not sure how long we can suffer... And living in the jungle also very dangerous because we can contact any tropical disease, malaria or something, so we’re very, very (eager) to get out of here as soon as possible,” she added.
The two Germans were snatched late last April while on a cruise aboard a yacht off Palawan.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin earlier confirmed that Okonek and Diesen are being held as hostages by the Abu Sayyaf group.
Reports showed that the Abu Sayyaf group is asking P250-million ransom in exchange for the release of the two foreigners.
Last week, the Abu Sayyaf released a photograph of the two Germans surrounded by masked armed men, threatening to behead one of them.
Gazmin, however, stressed the government’s “no-negotiation policy” with terrorists as he stressed the government is not intimidated by such threat from the Abu Sayyaf.
“We do not negotiate with terrorists…we will not be intimidated,” he said.
According to Gazmin, there are ongoing negotiations by “other parties” for the release of the Germans.
“We understand that there are negotiations that are happening, not through us but through other parties,” he said.
Germany has earlier said it had set up a crisis task force on the case “and we will of course continue our efforts to secure a release.”

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