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MILF warns of Marawi-type attacks

THE chief of the Philippines’ main Muslim rebel group warned Tuesday jihadists loyal to the Islamic State group, flush with looted guns and cash, could seize another Filipino city after Marawi last year.

Murad Ebrahim has billed his Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which has made peace with the government, as a rival to IS for the hearts and minds of angry young Muslims in the impoverished south of the mainly Catholic nation.

Murad said the MILF was battling pro-IS groups for influence in schools as the jihadists worked to infiltrate madrasas (Islamic religious schools) and secular universities.

At the same time IS gunmen were making their way into Mindanao from Malaysia and Indonesia, he added, but gave no estimates.

A five-month siege flattened the city of Marawi on the southern island of Mindanao, the Philippines’ main Islamic centre, and claimed more than 1,100 lives.

Murad told reporters conditions on the ground were still ripe for another Marawi-style siege.

“This ISIS group continues to penetrate us because they are being displaced in the Middle East and they want to have another place,” Murad said, using another name for IS.

TERROR THREAT. Murad Ebrahim, chairman of Moro Islamic Liberation Front, gestures as he speaks during a Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines forum in Manila on Feb. 20, 2018. The chief of the Philippines' main Muslim rebel group warned on Feb. 20 that jihadists loyal to the Islamic State group could seize another Filipino city after Marawi last year. AFP  
“The chances of having another Marawi cannot be overruled.”

In a related development:

 • President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to fight and end terrorism in the country as he recognized the help of China as well as Russia when local terrorists attacked and occupied Marawi City last year.

In his speech during the 10th Biennial National Convention and the 20th Founding Anniversary of the Chinese-Filipino Business Club Inc., the President said the two countries provided weapons and ammunitions to the military during the five-month long siege.

Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua has previously said terrorism is a common enemy of the Philippines and China.

The Marawi attackers found and looted stockpiles of munitions, cash and jewelry from homes—some owned by MILF members—before the city was retaken by US-backed Filipino troops in October, he said.

“When they [MILF members] fled from Marawi they [could] not bring their vaults. That is where the ISIS was also able to get so much money and now they’re using it for recruitment,” he added.

“It’s very sad. In our country some people say buying weapons and ammunition is just like buying fish in the market.”

The combination of weak central government authority, the presence of rebel groups and long-running blood feuds means Mindanao is awash with weapons, he added.

Manila signed a peace deal with the 10,000-member MILF in 2014 after decades of Muslim rebellion in Mindanao for independence or self-rule that had claimed more than 100,000 lives. 

Murad urged the Duterte administration to speed up the passage of a Muslim self-rule law to flesh out the peace accord, warning pro-IS militants were recruiting for a new attack.

“If the [self-rule law] will not be passed now I think it will develop a situation where these extremist groups can recruit more adherents, because it will prove their theory that there is no hope in the peace process,” he said.

“Since they have the capability also to supply money and then they also have the ability to make explosives, bombs, they can just use these young recruits to work out their plan.” 

Members of the pro-ISIS Maute group attacked Marawi City on May 23, last year, prompting Duterte who was in Russia that time to declare martial law in Mindanao on the same day.

Duterte lauded President Xi for having been “exceedingly very good” to the Philippines citing various assistance and support he has given the country, which contributed to the country’s development.

“So why would [it] be a concern of any Filipino giving his misgivings about my contacts with the Chinese government and Russian government? And as a matter of fact, at present, both countries did not ask even a single centavo from me,” he said

“And the Chinese government, to show its goodwill, not because they are afraid but because they want to maintain good relations with everybody, not only in (sic) the Philippines. They are building us two bridges for free,” he told his audience.

Duterte then discussed the conflicting claims in the South China Sea, noting how fast-changing geopolitics has been shaping everything in the region.

“In front of the Ambassador, I’d tell you, we will insist but what would be the components of our demands and our insistence. Well, we can only be diplomatic,” he said, referring to Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua, who was present during the event.

“We can only be talking on friendly and civilized terms. We cannot go there, ride in our whatever, Navy, the gray ships, the Coast Guard and start waving our rifles. We cannot do that today. It is unrealistic. It cannot be true,” he added.

In his speech, Duterte took a swipe at the previous administration, and blamed them for doing nothing during their time to contest the disputed region which is part of the Philippine territory. 

“The critics say that I am not doing enough...What were they doing during their time? Why did they not start to build things there, structures that China is doing now?” Duterte said.

“So even in the claim itself and in the development of that claim, we did not do anything. Now, it’s there, China building structures and military bases, I must admit it. But is it intended for us? You must be joking.” the President said. with Vito Barcelo

Topics: MILF , Marawi City
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