The leader of the so-called “Neo-JI” who was arrested last weekend in Jakarta communicated with terror networks in the Philippines and Al Qaida affiliated networks in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Indonesian police said.
This adds a worrisome new wrinkle in Filipino authorities’ efforts to fight remnants of the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) and other extremist groups, just days after suicide bombers blew up a military camp in Indanan, Sulu last week, leaving eight people dead and at least 22 injured.
Meanwhile, President Rodrigo Duterte has conferred the Order of Lapu-Lapu to the 12 soldiers who were injured in the attack carried out by suspected Abu Sayyaf terrorists.
At the same time, the President donned the new insignia, a three-star rank, on Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, the newly-installed Western Mindanao Command chief, during his visit Wednesday to the Westmincom headquarters in Zamboanga City.
Awarded with the Order of Lapu-Lapu were the following: Ssgt. Ferdinand Clemente, Sgt. William Andreade, Sgt. Marlon Domingo, Sgt. Ryan Ferrer, Sgt. Richard Tudla, Sgt. Mark Joseph Mamingcol, Sgt. Jykyl Bautista, Cpl. Serto Bagni, Cpl. Rommel Soliman, Pfc. John Angelo Carpio, Pfc. Ralph Sabrosa, and Pfc. Dariel Bolibar.
The President awarded the medals when he visited the soldiers around 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Camp Navarro General Hospital inside Camp Basilio Navarro that houses the Westmincom headquarters.
The awardees were among the 22 people who were wounded when two alleged suicide bombers attacked the Tactical Command Post of the Army’s 1st Brigade Combat Team in Indanan. The other 10 wounded were civilians.
Indonesian police said Para Wijayanto, the leader of Al Qaida-linked extremist network JI, was detained by counterterrorism police with his wife on Saturday at a hotel in Bekasi, a city on the outskirts of the capital Jakarta.
Indonesian National Police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo said Para communicated with terror networks in the Philippines and Al Qaida affiliated networks in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and consider him as an “intelligent individual” with 19 years of experience in the terror network, the Straits Times newspaper reported.
Para’s wife, initialled MY, who was arrested with him on Saturday, also had an active role in JI, one of Indonesia’s oldest terrorist groups, which was behind a series of deadly attacks in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, the police added.
The Indonesians are calling the group under Para “Neo-JI” as they conduct business while recruiting members and planning to set up a caliphate in the country, Prasetyo said.
His arrest also unearthed a new tactic used by the Southeast Asian terrorist group, Straits Times reported.
While militants such as JI had often relied on donations from members and sympathizers, and even robberies, to grow and fund their murderous activities, JI under its so-called “emir” (top leader) Para has been building economic strength by carrying on, among others, an oil palm plantation business in Sumatra and Kalimantan, police said.
Indonesia, the world’s biggest exporter of oil palm, allows companies and well-off individuals to buy land and seeds to grow palm trees. Growers sell the fruits to milling plants for profits.
JI operations had relied on donations from its members and funds from Al Qaida, and also used illegal means such as robbery and hacking websites, anti-terror expert Adhe Bhakti of the Centre for Radicalism and Deradicalisation Studies or Pakar told The Straits Times.
JI was founded by a handful of exiled Indonesian militants in Malaysia in the 1980s, and grew to include cells across Southeast Asia, including in strife-torn Mindanao in the Philippines.
Indonesian police scored big when Para was arrested early on June 29 on the outskirts of Jakarta, as he had been on the run for 16 years. The JI leader is widely believed to be a student of Abu Bakar Basyir, the alleged mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombings that killed more than 200 people.
Before becoming “emir” of neo-JI, the 54-year-old terrorist held various senior positions in the group and was involved in training and recruitment. He has been on the police’s “priority wanted list” since 2003.
Although the original JI was initially believed to have been decimated in Indonesia following a series of operations by security agencies, counter-terrorism experts had warned that young militants were being recruited and that the JI network may have expanded in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation to a 2,000-strong force.
Indonesian police coined the “Neo-JI” term to describe this new threat, Straits Times reported.
Previously, a number of apparent suicide bombings in the Philippines over the past 12 months were a worrying escalation of militancy driven by the influence of the Islamic State in Southeast Asia, security experts said.
A decades-old Islamist insurgency in the southern Philippines has killed tens of thousands. But suicide attacks have been used extremely rarely, with foreign fighters blamed for the few that have been carried out.
Authorities now fear however the most recent suspected suicide attack, which struck a military base Friday on the southern island of Jolo, killing at least five people, may have been the work of a Filipino.
It was the third suspected suicide attack since July 2018.
“The change did not come with [Friday’s] bombing, it came with the introduction of a lethal new ideology into the Philippines,” said security analyst Sidney Jones.
“The game-changer” was the Islamic State, she added.
As its “caliphate” crumbled in the Middle East, IS has stepped up its strategy of absorbing existing insurgent groups around the world and claiming their attacks.
The group has had a presence for years in the south of the Philippines, where rugged terrain and weak government control provide a safe haven for fighters.
Suicide attacks indicate a higher level of commitment to the militant cause, experts say, and are often approved by the central leadership of IS, who trade off the media profile the tactic brings.
The group has taken credit for Friday’s blasts, as well as the deaths of over 30 people, killed in two previous attacks believed to be the work of suicide bombers.
The first was a July 2018 van bomb at a checkpoint in southern Basilan island, followed by the explosions during Sunday mass in January at a Catholic cathedral in Jolo.
“It is an escalation, but it’s also a sign of increased radicalisation,” said Zachary Abuza, Southeast Asian security expert at the National War College in Washington.
The Philippines is a key piece of territory because it is one of the few places in the region where IS can hold ground, like its affiliates did for five months in Marawi.
The rash of suicide bombings and new IS propaganda videos suggests the pull of the militant group in the Philippines “remains strong”, Jones said, referring to jihadists who laid siege to the southern Marawi city in 2017.
The army suspects a 23-year-old Filipino carried out the latest attack and are investigating whether it was a suicide bomb, or a remote detonation gone wrong.
“[His] remains were claimed by the mother and the sibling who identified him based on the head,” Major General Cirilito Sobejana told AFP.
“For the benefit of the doubt, we are doing a DNA testing.”
Analysts have long feared suicide attacks would take root in the Philippines, given the IS influence and presence of foreign fighters.
“Society is changing. Their method of attack is changing. Suicide bombing is the current and future method of attack,” said Rommel Banlaoi, chairman of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research.
At the same time, there are strong motivations from local militant cells to try to catch the eye of the IS central leadership with suicide attacks.
Several figures are vying to be the designated leader in the region, with top candidates coming from the IS-aligned Abu Sayyaf network. With PNA
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