Looted Cash, Gold Help ISIS Recruit in Philippines

A view of the facade, of the battered Landbank building, looted by militants, in the early days of the Marawi siege, Philippines January 13, 2018. REUTERS/Tom Allard
A view of the facade, of the battered Landbank building, looted by militants, in the early days of the Marawi siege, Philippines January 13, 2018. REUTERS/Tom Allard
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Looted Cash, Gold Help ISIS Recruit in Philippines

A view of the facade, of the battered Landbank building, looted by militants, in the early days of the Marawi siege, Philippines January 13, 2018. REUTERS/Tom Allard
A view of the facade, of the battered Landbank building, looted by militants, in the early days of the Marawi siege, Philippines January 13, 2018. REUTERS/Tom Allard

Insurgents looted cash, gold and jewelery worth tens of millions of dollars when they occupied a southern Philippines town last year, treasure one of their leaders has used to recruit around 250 fighters for fresh attacks, Reuters reported.

The military said Humam Abdul Najib escaped from Marawi City, which the militants had hoped to establish as a stronghold for ISIS in Southeast Asia, before it was recaptured by the military in October after five months of ferocious battles and aerial bombardment.

Since then, Najib, also known as Abu Dar, has used the booty looted from bank vaults, shops and homes in Marawi to win over boys and young men in the impoverished southern province of Lanao del Sur, military officers in the area said. Hardened mercenaries are also joining, lured by the promise of money.

As a result, ISIS followers remain a potent threat in Southeast Asia even though hundreds of militants were killed in the battle for Marawi, the officers said.

"Definitely they haven't abandoned their intent to create a ‘caliphate’ in Southeast Asia," Colonel Romeo Brawner, the deputy commander of Joint Task Force Marawi, told Reuters.

"That's the overall objective, but in the meantime while they are still trying to recover and build up again – fighters and weapons - our estimate is they are going to launch terrorist attacks."

On Saturday, militants wounded eight soldiers in two attacks in Lanao del Sur, Brawner said, the first such violence since the recapture of Marawi.

In the early days of the occupation of Marawi last May, as black-clad fighters burned churches, released prisoners and cut the power supply, other militants targeted banks and the homes of wealthy citizens, commandeering hostages to help with the plunder.

"It was in the first week. They divided us into three groups with seven people each," said J.R. Montesa, a Christian construction worker who was captured by the militants.

Using explosives, the militants blew open the vaults of the city's three main banks, Landbank, the Philippine National Bank and the Al Amanah Islamic Bank, Montesa told Reuters in a town near Marawi. They trucked away the booty, easily slipping out of Marawi because a security cordon was not fully in place.

They also raided jewelry stores, pawnshops and businesses.

Landbank and Al Amanah did not respond to requests for comment.

Philippine National said recovering losses because of the Marawi fighting was a concern, but did not give details.

At the time the militants struck, banks, businesses and homes had more money than usual, said Marawi City police chief Ebra Mor. The Maranaos, the ethnic group that dominates the area around Marawi, are mostly Muslims.

"There was a lot of money inside the battle area," he told Reuters. "Maranaos keep millions of pesos in safety vaults in their homes. Gold, also. It is a tradition of the Maranao to give gifts of money."

Montesa said vans they loaded with the spoils of the raids were "overflowing", with money, gold and other valuables stuffed into every crevice of the vehicles.

"They were saying it was a gift from Allah.

The military and police have also been accused by rights groups and by Marawi residents of looting during the conflict.



Ukraine Summit Attracts World Leaders, Fails to Isolate Russia

This photograph shows a sign representing Ukraine on the bank of Lake Lucerne in Lucerne, on June 14, 2024, ahead of a Ukraine peace summit on June 15-16, 2024.
This photograph shows a sign representing Ukraine on the bank of Lake Lucerne in Lucerne, on June 14, 2024, ahead of a Ukraine peace summit on June 15-16, 2024.
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Ukraine Summit Attracts World Leaders, Fails to Isolate Russia

This photograph shows a sign representing Ukraine on the bank of Lake Lucerne in Lucerne, on June 14, 2024, ahead of a Ukraine peace summit on June 15-16, 2024.
This photograph shows a sign representing Ukraine on the bank of Lake Lucerne in Lucerne, on June 14, 2024, ahead of a Ukraine peace summit on June 15-16, 2024.

World leaders will join Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy at a summit this weekend to explore ways of ending the deadliest conflict in Europe since World War Two, but Russia isn't invited and the event will fall short of Kyiv's aim of isolating Moscow.

US Vice President Kamala Harris, French President Emmanuel Macron and the leaders of Germany, Italy, Britain, Canada and Japan are among those set to attend the June 15-16 meeting at the Swiss mountaintop resort of Buergenstock.

India, which has helped Moscow survive the shock of economic sanctions, is expected to send a delegation. Turkey and Hungary, which similarly maintain cordial ties with Russia, will be represented by their foreign ministers.

But despite months of intense Ukrainian and Swiss lobbying, some others will not be there, most notably China, a key consumer of Russian oil and supplier of goods that help Moscow maintain its manufacturing base.

"This meeting is already a result," Zelenskiy said in Berlin on Tuesday, while acknowledging the challenge of maintaining international support as the war, now well into its third year, grinds on.

Ninety-two countries and eight organizations will attend, Switzerland said. Organizers preparing a joint statement have battled to strike a balance between condemning Russia's actions and securing as many participants as possible, diplomats say.

A final draft of the summit declaration refers to Russia's "war" against Ukraine, and also underlines commitment to the UN charter and respect for international law, according to two people familiar with the document.

Participants not in agreement with the declaration have until the end of Friday to opt out, the sources said.

The Swiss foreign ministry declined to comment.

Switzerland wants the summit to pave the way for a "future peace process" in which Russia takes part - and to determine which country could take on the next phase.

'FUTILE'

The idea of a summit was originally floated after Zelenskiy presented a 10-point peace plan in late 2022.

Ulrich Schmid, a political scientist and Eastern Europe expert at the University of St. Gallen, said the summit appeared to be "a mixed bag" so far, given the show of support from some quarters and China's absence.

"Then the question arises: is peace actually doable?" Schmid added. "As long as (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is in power... it will be difficult."

Putin said on Friday that Russia would cease fire and enter peace talks if Ukraine dropped its NATO ambitions and withdrew its forces from four Ukrainian regions claimed by Moscow. Kyiv has repeatedly said its territorial integrity is non-negotiable.

Russia, which sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, has described the idea of a summit to which it is not invited as "futile".

Moscow casts its "special military operation" in Ukraine as part of a broader struggle with the West, which it says wants to bring Russia to its knees. Kyiv and the West say this is nonsense and accuse Russia of waging an illegal war of conquest.

Given such entrenched differences, the summit will focus on parts of Zelenskiy's plan broad enough to be palatable to most, if not all, participants. These include the need to guarantee food security, nuclear safety, freedom of navigation, prisoner exchanges, and the return of children, officials said.

Meanwhile, China, along with Brazil, is pushing a separate peace plan for Ukraine that calls for the participation of both warring parties. Moscow has voiced its support for Beijing's efforts to end the conflict.

Kyiv has not hidden its frustration at China's decision to skip the Swiss summit. Zelenskiy even accused Beijing of helping Russia to disrupt it, an extraordinary outburst against a global superpower with unrivalled influence over Moscow.

On the battlefield, the gathering comes at a difficult time for Ukraine. Russian troops, who control around 18% of Ukrainian territory, are advancing in the east in a war that has killed tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians, left villages, towns and cities in ruins and uprooted millions.