Shortly after the five-month long Marawi siege in 2017 that resulted in the death of the ISIS-affiliated former Abu Sayyaf Group leader Isnilon Hapilon, along with over 900 terrorists that included foreign extremists, US intelligence officials confirmed that ISIS-leaning groups had indeed come into being in the Asian region.
The twin explosions in Indanan, Sulu late last month by a terrorist believed to be Moroccan and a local identified as Norman Lasuca – the first confirmed case of a suicide bombing perpetrated by a Filipino – plus reports about the presence of an Egyptian couple plotting more suicide bombing attacks against Catholic churches in Jolo, indicates the presence of splinter terrorist groups now operating in Mindanao.
No doubt President Duterte’s fear of “dangerous times ahead” and the possibility of more suicide attacks is clearly here today. Serious concerns that these could spread in urban centers like Metro Manila with the interconnection between terrorism, transnational crimes and cross-border criminal activities such as illegal drug trafficking is now proven to be true. P250 million worth of methamphetamine hydrochloride (shabu) was recovered during clearing operations by government troops in Marawi, clearly showing the connection between drug operations and terrorist activities.
Delegates to the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee session in October last year had admitted that “as terrorism becomes more intertwined with organized crime… no border of the world is untouched by the illicit drug trade.”
A disturbing development was also highlighted by Tamara Makarenko, an expert on the crime-terror nexus and an international consultant working with the UN Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI), during a UN Security Council forum on threats to international peace and security held last Tuesday. Makarenko disclosed that smaller terrorist cells are now focused on recruiting criminals in prisons which she described as “true incubators” that serve as a venue for knowledge exchange (and transfer). And due to the scale and unpredictability of the petty criminal-turned-terrorist, even local level criminality poses a serious global threat, she warned.
No less than the undersecretary general and head of the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism Vladimir Voronkov said in a statement (during the International Conference on Countering the Financing of Terrorism held in France) that “no state is immune to terrorist financing. Today more than ever, all states should redouble their efforts to ensure that terrorists are deprived of any means available to raise, transfer, and deploy funds.”
Drug cartels have indeed forged an unholy alliance with extremist groups to finance terror activities, purchase firearms, maintain training camps and support other operational/logistic requirements.
What planet do some of these members of the UN Human Rights Council come from? They fail to understand the very serious problem posed by illegal drugs. Here is the Philippine government trying to keep the people safe from terrorists and criminals but politically partisan groups refuse to believe that the so-called “extrajudicial killings” is not a state policy but perpetrated by rogue cops involved in the illicit drug trade. These so-called human rights groups continue to demonize our efforts to combat the drug menace which is a global concern given the unholy alliance between terrorism and the illegal drugs trade.
A very clear example is Afghanistan where the Taliban has been operating drug laboratories, turning the country into the “opium capital of the world,” supplying about 85 percent of opium distributed worldwide, with annual export values estimated at $4 billion. This is the country that hosted Osama bin Laden and his terrorists’ gang that planned the 9/11 attack.
The drug trade had in fact become the “cash cow” for groups such as the Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. A recent report by a UN Security Council monitoring team said the Al-Qaeda grew stronger operating under the umbrella of the Taliban, which the UN notes is “the primary partner for all foreign terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan” with the exception of the ISIS-Khorasan branch which is against the Taliban and is getting bigger and becoming more dangerous.
“In return for safe havens and the ability to pursue their own business, foreign fighters continue to operate under the authority of the Taliban in multiple Afghan provinces at undiminished levels,” the UN warned.
Last July 1, authorities arrested a Kenyan national in Zambales suspected of being a member of the Al Shabaab, an East African terrorist group with links to Al-Qaeda, seizing a grenade, a homemade bomb, bomb-making paraphernalia and a 9-mm pistol from him.
While the ISIS had been decimated in Syria, security experts warn that it continues to pose a threat, saying it could be much bigger now than what it was during the height of its “caliphate,” rebuilding its forces and creating provinces in Africa and East Asia. Professor Rommel Banlaoi, a security analyst who chairs the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, had warned that “ISIS has money coming into the Philippines, and they are recruiting fighters.”
Other terrorism experts point to the suicide attack in Indanan, Sulu by Lasuca as indicative of the growing radicalization of Filipino jihadists. The UN Security Council had also warned about the danger of underestimating the role of women, saying that they play important roles in ISIS recruitment and propaganda activities, and are key players in spreading radical ideas that encourage people to launch suicide attacks.
Certainly, the security picture and threat level in the Asian region is far more serious than ever before. We need to be vigilant and brace ourselves because one thing is clear: President Duterte’s security concern is very real.
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