ISIS brands Australia ‘guard dog of America’
By Amanda Hodge and Primrose Riordan
Islamic State has released a graphic video from the besieged southern Philippines city of Marawi, appealing to Muslims across Southeast Asia to join the battle and deriding Australia as the “regional guard dog” of America for aiding the military’s effort.
Regional concerns that the three-month siege of central Marawi by militants affiliated with Islamic State could spill over into Southeast Asia led Australia to deploy two P3 Orion surveillance planes to Mindanao in June to help The Philippines’ security forces to recapture the city.
Australian spy chief Nick Warner met President Rodrigo Duterte this week to discuss the country’s contribution and progress in the military effort.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was forced yesterday to defend the Australian Secret Intelligence Service director-general amid criticism from rights groups and the opposition over a series of photographs taken after the meeting in which both men made the President’s trademark fist gesture. Mr Duterte is facing rising domestic and international condemnation for his murderous war on drugs, which has claimed more than 12,000 lives, many thousands of them in extra-judicial killings.
Experts have said Mr Warner’s appearance was “highly unusual” but his willingness to allow the images and video to be released indicated how important co-operation with the Duterte government had become because of the protracted Marawi conflict.
Ms Bishop suggested this was the case, but was confident that the photo “was not the director-general’s idea”.
“This has the potential to be the Southeast Asian headquarters for ISIS, so we take this conflict very seriously and we are providing support to The Philippines government to assist the armed forces of The Philippines to end this conflict,” Ms Bishop said.
The latest Marawi video, an almost seven-minute English-language production from Islamic State’s Al-Hayat Media Centre, features graphic battle footage and images of young militants setting fire to a church, ripping up pictures of Pope Francis and smashing a large crucifix and statues of Mary. It also attacks Australia’s role in aiding the Duterte government.
“After soldiers of the Taghut (Infidel government) were left embarrassed and demoralised, Duterte ran to his masters, the defenders of the cross — America, along with their regional guard dog Australia and begged them for help,” the narrator says in American-accented English.
“Despite having been previously insulted by Duterte, they were quick to put their differences aside, aiding him in a malicious air campaign in the hope of either achieving victory over the Islamic State or repelling its threat.”
The new video is the fourth to be released on the Marawi conflict since 500 militants from the homegrown Maute group and a faction of Abu Sayyaf, led by Islamic State’s emir of Southeast Asia, Isnilon Hapilon, stormed the city on May 23.
In it, an Islamic State fighter also makes a direct appeal to “our Muslim brothers of East Asia, specifically those in Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Thailand and Singapore”.
“Come forth to the land of Jihad. Come forth to dar-al-Islam (house of Islam) in Marawi,” says the militant, captioned as Abul Yamaan.
Indonesian National Police spokesman Setyo Wasisto said authorities were studying the video for any evidence of Indonesian fighters, and were taking steps to prevent its circulation on social media. “Our hope is that people will not be provoked by the message,” he said. “Even before the video emerged, all agencies and institutions in Indonesia have been working together to stop Indonesians from going to conflict areas, including Marawi.”
Malaysian counter-terrorism chief Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay told Channel News Asia yesterday the video had the potential to “inspire (Islamic State) followers in Malaysia, Indonesia — all of Southeast Asia — to go to southern Philippines to wage jihad”.
Malaysian intelligence officials say they have tracked heightened efforts by local Islamic State cells to enter the southern Philippines since the conflict began, despite co-ordinated maritime patrols of the common seas by Malaysia, The Philippines and Indonesia.
An earlier propaganda video featured an Australian Islamic State fighter, known as Abu Adam al-Australi, exhorting aspiring Australian jihadists to join the fight in Marawi.
Australia and the US are the only two countries with which The Philippines has signed a defence treaty, and both have sprung to the aid of The Philippines’ embattled security forces.
The US military has also deployed a P3 Orion surveillance plane to Marawi as well as drones with infra-red and thermal-imaging capacity to identify militant hideouts there.
The Philippines’ military effort to recapture the city has been complicated by the fact that thousands of civilians were initially held hostage and used as human shields by militants fighting among the densely built-up business district of the Muslim-majority city.
About 200,000 residents have been evacuated since the start of the conflict but several hundred are believed still to be held captive inside the city.
Southeast Asia terror expert Greg Barton said the video’s relatively slick production and “romantic” message appeared targeted at luring teenagers and 20-somethings to join the fight and refresh the numbers of militants lost in the battle.
Philippines government figures put the death toll at 758: 584 militants, 129 soldiers and 45 civilians.
The video claims Islamic State militants have killed more than 300 soldiers.
“They know they can’t hold (Marawi) indefinitely but they can draw this out and then retreat to Sulu indefinitely and prepare for the next round,” Professor Barton said of the militants.
“There is no reason why they can’t sustain it (insurgency) for a very long time.”
UPDATE: Malcolm Turnbull says he is “determined” to prevent Islamic State militants from gaining a foothold in the Southern Philippines as he refused to be drawn on whether Australia would sent ground troops if issued with a request.
“We are determined to ensure that ISIL does not establish a foothold in our region,” the Prime Minister said today. “We have a very strong vested interest in ensuring that the ISIl insurgency in the Southern Philippines in Marawi is defeated.”
“We are providing assistance as you to the government of the Philippines in their actions to retake Marawi and extinguish this ISIL insurgency.” – Joe Kelly