Netanyahu says Israel, India both face threat from radical Islam

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks as his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi looks on during a signing of agreements ceremony at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, India January 15, 2018.

By Sanjeev Miglani

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday he was discussing with India ways to strengthen security cooperation against the menace of from Islamist extremism that both democracies faced.

Netanyahu spoke while on a six-day tour of India, the first by an Israeli premier for 15 years, and is being feted by Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, whose Hindu nationalist party has long admired Israel for its tough posture against terrorism.

India, wary of upsetting Arab nations on which it was dependent for oil, and heeding the sentiments of its own large Muslim minority, kept a distance from Israel for decades. But under Modi, the two sides have embraced a closer relationship based on security and economics.

The right-wing Netanyahu told a security conference that India and Israel were two democracies with a natural affinity, but their open and liberal societies faced risks.

“Our way of life is being challenged, most notably, the quest for modernity, the quest for innovation (are) being challenged by radical Islam and its terrorist offshoots from a variety of corners,” he said.

Both Israel and India have long sought to counter militant Islamists – in Israel’s case, mainly from Gaza and Egypt’s Sinai region and, in India’s case, mainly from Pakistan. Away from the public eye, India and Israel have been cooperating against the threat through, in part, intelligence sharing, officials say.

“We’ve discussed in this visit how we can strengthen our two nations in the civilian areas, in security areas, in every area,” Netanyahu told the conference.

His trip to India comes just six months after Modi made the first trip by an Indian prime minister to Israel, during which he did not go to Ramallah, seat of the self-ruling Palestinian Authority and a customary stop for leaders visiting the region.

Netanyahu toured the Taj Mahal on Tuesday and will also visit Modi’s home state of Gujarat and India’s financial capital Mumbai.

He will join an 11-year-old Israeli boy, Moshe Holtzberg, whose parents were murdered by Pakistan-based militants in Mumbai in 2008, for a memorial event at the Indian financial hub’s Jewish center where the attack took place.

The boy, who lives with his grandparents in Israel, arrived on Tuesday as a guest of Modi.

(Additional reporting by Neha Dasgupta; editing by Mark Heinrich)

Southeast Asian states vow cooperation on ‘growing’ militant threat

Combat seized weapons are display by Philippines army during a news conference, as government troops continue their assault against insurgents from the Maute group in Marawi city, Philippines July 4, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

By Tom Allard

MANADO, Indonesia (Reuters) – Southeast Asian nations will cooperate more closely with intelligence and law enforcement authorities from the Middle East amid “grave concerns” about an elevated threat from Islamic State (IS) in the region.

Representatives from four Southeast Asian nations, Australia and New Zealand met in the Indonesian city of Manado on Saturday to develop a response to the increased danger posed by IS, highlighted by the occupation of parts of the southern Philippines city of Marawi by militants owing allegiance to the group.

The battle has sparked alarm that as IS suffers reversals in Iraq and Syria, it is seeking to create a stronghold in the region, buttressed by Southeast Asian fighters returning from the Middle East and other militants inspired by the ultra-radical group and the Marawi conflict.

Describing the regional threat from Islamist militants as growing and rapidly evolving, a joint statement by the participants called for enhanced information sharing, as well as cooperation on border control, deradicalisation, law reform and countering Islamists’ prolific use of social media to plan attacks and lure recruits.

“We must face the threat together,” said Wiranto, Indonesia’s co-ordinating minister for security.

The meeting was co-hosted by Indonesia and Australia. The other participants were Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and New Zealand.

The main initiative was a law enforcement dialogue to be co-hosted by the Indonesian and Australian police forces in August bringing together key stakeholders affected by IS.

Two senior law enforcement sources at the Manado meeting said countries from the Middle East, including Turkey, would attend the summit to kick off cooperation across the two regions.

Islamic State has a dedicated military unit made up of hundreds of Southeast Asian fighters in Syria and Iraq led by Indonesian militant Bahrumsyah.

According to Indonesian police, there are 510 Indonesian supporters of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, including 113 women.

About 20 Islamist fighters from Indonesia are believed by counter-terrorism authorities to be fighting in Marawi, a predominantly Muslim city on the Philippines island of Mindanao which has been a hotbed of Islamist unrest for decades and a magnet for militants from around the region.

One of leaders of the militants in Marawi is a Malaysian Islamic studies lecturer, Ahmad Mahmud, who arranged financing and the recruitment of foreign fighters.

POOR RECORD OF COOPERATION

While the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the multilateral regional forum made up of 10 nations, has long had a framework for cooperation on combating violent extremism, analysts and officials say coordination has been poor.

A report last week from the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict identified “formidable obstacles” to greater cooperation between Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, the front-line states facing the Islamist threat in Southeast Asia.

“These include the deep-seated political distrust between the Philippines and Malaysia that impedes information sharing; concern from Indonesia and Malaysia police about mixed loyalties of local counterparts in Mindanao, especially given clan and family links; and institutional disjunctures that give the lead in counter-terrorism to the police in Indonesia and Malaysia but to the military in the Philippines,” the report said.

After more than two months of intense fighting, IS-aligned militants still control part of Marawi. Over 600 people have been killed, including 45 civilians and 114 members of the security forces. The government has said the other dead are militants.

(Reporting by Tom Allard; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Philippine leader to expedite bill for self-rule in Muslim region

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (C) with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chairperson Al Haj Murad Ebrahim (2nd from L), Jesus Dureza, Secretary of Peace Process, Ghazali Jaafar (2nd from R), MILF vice-chairman and Mohagher Iqbal, MILF peace panel chairman, hold a draft law of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) during a ceremony at the Malacanang presidential palace in metro Manila, Philippines July 17, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

By Martin Petty

MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte vowed on Monday to fast-track new legislation for autonomy in the country’s most volatile region, advancing a protracted process to end decades of rebellion and thwart rising Islamist militancy.

The Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) submitted to Duterte on Monday is the culmination of a rocky 20-year peace process between the government of the predominantly Christian Philippines and the Muslim separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

It aims to turn predominantly Muslim parts of the southern island of Mindanao into an autonomous region with its own executive, legislature and fiscal powers.

“May I say to you my brothers … I will support and hasten this instrument as it goes to the legislature,” Duterte said in a ceremony for the handover of the bill, drawing loud applause.

“There will be no objections of the provisions of all that is consistent with the constitution and aspirations of the Moro people.”

Passage of the bill would be a major achievement for Duterte, who was a mayor in a Mindanao city for 22 years and has made peace deals with separatists and Marxist rebels a priority for his year-old government.

The bill’s submission comes at a critical time for the Philippines, as fears grow that militants allied with Islamic State have exploited disillusionment over the failure of the previous Congress to pass the law, and have used it to recruit fighters and further a radical agenda.

Rebels inspired by Islamic State have occupied the commercial heart of Marawi City, on Mindanao, through seven weeks of air strikes and battles with government troops that have killed more than 500 people and displaced 260,000, marking the country’s biggest security crisis in years.

DANGEROUS TIMES

“We live in very dangerous times… we watch with utter disgust of the destruction that violent extremism has inflicted in the city of Marawi,” MILF chairman Al Haj Ebrahim Murad said.

“These misguided people have filled the vacuum created by our failure to enact the basic law and (they) feed into the frustration of our people.”

The law, details of which were not immediately available, calls for the creation of a self-administered territory within what the Philippines called Bangsamoro, meaning “Moro nation”, referring to the southern Muslims that Spanish colonialists called “Moros”.

The bill, agreed by a panel of representatives from government, the MILF and religious groups, prescribes an elected legislative assembly, a chief minister, a cabinet, with an agreement to share natural resource revenues, stacked largely in favor of the new Bangsamoro government.

In a recent interview with Reuters in Cotabato City, Mohagher Iqbal, the MILF’s top peace negotiator, said the hope was for Congress to pass the law and a transition period to start in 2019, with elections in 2022 for an 80-seat assembly.

Iqbal said he feared the Marawi siege could complicate the passage of the law if there was a perception that the MILF and the radical Maute group fighting in Marawi were associated with each other because both hail from the same region.

“Right now we don’t really know the thinking of the people,” he said.

Gunmen kill four police in Pakistani city of Quetta

Relatives react outside the hospital after policemen were shot dead in Quetta, Pakistan July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Naseer Ahmed

By Gul Yousafzai

QUETTA, Pakistan (Reuters) – Islamist gunmen on Thursday killed a senior police official and three other policemen guarding him in the Pakistani city of Quetta, police said, in an attack claimed by both the Pakistani Taliban and Islamic State.

Superintendent of Police Mubarak Shah, 56, was killed en route to his office when four gunmen riding on motorcycles attacked his vehicle, said city police officer Muhammad Sultan.

“The head and upper parts of all the four victims were targeted,” said Sultan, adding that one policeman was critically wounded.

A faction of the Pakistani Taliban, known as Jamaat-ul-Ahrar,¬†carried out the attack, according to the faction’s spokesman, Asad Mansur.

Islamic State (IS) also claimed the attack on it Amaq News Agency website. Jamaat ur Ahrar and IS have in the past jointly claimed responsibility for attacks in Pakistan.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the attack, his office said.

It was second such attack in a week targeting senior police officers in the volatile Baluchistan province, which borders Afghanistan and Iran. Quetta is the provincial capital.

A suicide bomber on Monday killed a district police chief and his guard in the town of Chaman on the Afghan border. The Pakistani Taliban claimed that bombing in text messages and emails to media.

Violence in Baluchistan has raised concern about security for projects in the $57-billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor, a planned transport and energy link from western China to Pakistan’s southern deep-water port of Gwadar.

Resource-rich Baluchistan has long been plagued by insurgencies by separatists. Islamist groups such as the Taliban and Islamic State also carry out attacks in the region.

Islamist militants have killed thousands of people in Pakistan over the last decade or more, in their bid to impose hardline rule.

(Writing by Asif Shahzad; Editing by Drazen Jorgic, Robert Birsel)

U.S. government narrows focus of counter-extremism program

FILE PHOTO - U.S. Department of Homeland Security emblem is pictured at the National Cybersecurity & Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) located just outside Washington in Arlington, Virginia September 24, 2010. REUTERS/Hyungwon Kang

By Julia Harte and Dustin Volz

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Friday announced changes to a $10 million government grant program, narrowing its focus around efforts to combat Islamist extremism.

In an update to awards announced in January by former President Barack Obama’s administration, the department released a new list of grant recipients and amounts, shifting money to law enforcement offices and away from groups that combat U.S.-based extremism.

Reuters reported in February that President Donald Trump’s administration wanted to revamp the program to focus solely on Islamist extremism.

A DHS spokeswoman said the department changed the grant criteria after the release of the initial list to consider whether applicants would partner with law enforcement, had experience implementing counter-extremism prevention programs, and would be able to continue after the awards were spent.

“Top-scoring applications that were consistent with these priorities remained as awardees, while others did not,” said DHS spokeswoman Lucy Martinez.

Three local law enforcement offices in California, Washington state and Minnesota were among the new awardees, receiving grants totaling $1.2 million.

A spokesman for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office in California said it would use the money to address extremism “on all fronts,” not just Islamist violence. Sergeant Ray Kelly cited violent clashes between right-wing and left-wing demonstrators that recently erupted in the city of Berkeley as an example of local extremism in the county.

Kelly said the office would use the grant money to train officers to better recognize and address signs of alienation that make young people vulnerable to extremism, with the help of behavioral health counselors who are already on staff.

The Muslim Public Affairs Council, a nonprofit group that works to improve public understanding and policies that affect American Muslims, said the Trump administration revoked its nearly $400,000 grant because the group “did not meet the criteria of working with law enforcement to counter violent extremism.”

The revised list also omitted several original awardees focused on U.S.-based extremism, such as Life After Hate, which tries to steer young people away from far-right extremism.

Christian Picciolini, a co-founder of Life After Hate, told Reuters his group was planning to use its $400,000 grant to scale up its counselor network of former extremists to “meet the highly increased requests for our services since Election Day.”

“The current administration’s lack of focus on domestic white extremist terrorism, let alone its denial to even acknowledge it exists, is highly troubling,” Picciolini wrote in an email.

(Reporting by Julia Harte and Dustin Volz; Editing by Bill Rigby and Bill Trott)