Saturday, June 10, 2017

‘There’s a bigger plan’ ISIS targeting Asia to expand caliphate – starting in Philippines

Saturday| June 10, 2017

The jihadis are on the back foot in their strongholds of Raqqa, Syria, and Mosul, Iraq, as the US-led coalition continues to strike.

Extremist groups linked to ISIS have seized control of Marawi in the Philippines with a video emerging online showing Islamist militants plotting to shut down the city.

The footage, found on a mobile phone as government forces closed in on the fighters in Marawi City, showed a group of men in a room discussing how they would take hostages from a school, seal off roads and capture a highway into the lakeside town.

It has sparked fears the jihadis are building a new stronghold on the Philippine island of Mindanao that could pose a threat to neighbouring Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

Maute, an affiliate of ISIS, took Marawi in the southern Philippines two weeks ago with fighters from Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Chechnya boosting its force.
Officials said the Islamist militants locked in an urban battle with troops in the southern Philippines had planned to carve out an enclave of their own, after the emergence of a video showing their leaders in a secret strategy meeting.

Military spokesman Restituto Padilla said: "There was indeed a bigger plan and it was supposed to wreak more havoc.”

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law when the siege began. He warned on Saturday: “I will not hesitate to use every power available. This will be over in about three days.”

But the militants continue to hold Marawi despite the Philippine Army entering the city.

Philippine senators said members of the upper house were last week shown the video of the militants making their plans, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters on Wednesday.

Seated at a table was Isnilon Hapilon, the leader of the Abu Sayyaf rebel group who was proclaimed by ISIS last year as its "emir" of Southeast Asia. The US State Department has offered a bounty of up to $5 million for his arrest.

Hapilon has formed an alliance with the Maute group, a tactically smart, social-media savvy outfit, and at least two other factions that have lined up behind the ultra-radical ISIS.

Senator JV Ejercito "It was clear that these terrorists, the Maute group, their end goal is to make Marawi ... independent, or to separate from the republic.

Progress in the military campaign has been slow because hundreds of civilians are still trapped or being held hostage, some as human shields.

A Catholic priest and about a dozen of his parishioners were taken on the first day of the battle by militants who burst into the town's cathedral and set it alight.

Military spokesman Padilla appealed to social media users not to circulate material - such as video images of the militants destroying religious statues and pulling down a cross inside a church - that may fan religious tension.

"Let us not buy into the plan of these terror groups to inflame the feelings of our other religions. This is not a religious war."

A four-hour ceasefire to evacuate residents trapped in the town was interrupted by gunfire on Sunday, leaving some 500 to 600 inside with dwindling supplies of food and water.

Officials say that 1,545 civilians have been rescued.

The latest numbers for militants killed in the battle is 134, along with 39 security personnel. The authorities have put the civilian death toll at between 20 and 38.



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