fbpx
Ecuador

The Ecuadorian Security Crisis

Ecuador is currently experiencing its worst security crisis in a decade. The actions of various illegal groups, the presence of Mexican cartels, prison violence, and drug trafficking are some of the reasons why the government has recently taken measures to mitigate the law and order crisis.

The violence and insecurity in the Latin American country are elements that show a tendency toward an increase in criminal actions in Ecuador. If Ecuadorian authorities fail to adequately intervene on the factors that generate instability in the country, Ecuador faces a dark and dangerous future, as other countries in the region have already experienced.

The Crisis, Its Factors, and the Government’s Response

Ecuador’s security indicators have worsened exponentially in recent years. In 2021, reports indicated that Ecuador reached its worst homicide figures in the last 10 years. A homicide rate of 13.13 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants was recorded, which is above the world average rate of 5.8. In 2021 Ecuador experienced one homicide every three and a half hours.  In addition to violent deaths, there was an increase in the number of assaults, which rose by 27.9%, vehicle thefts increased by 55%, burglaries recorded a growth of 14.2%, and robbery of commercial premises increased by 17.3%.

The situation in 2022 has not improved. The country has registered 1,255 violent deaths so far this year, according to police figures. Also, in January alone, the number of violent deaths tripled compared to the previous year, while drug seizures doubled. In fact, Ecuadorian authorities have recorded events of such magnitude as 18 murders in less than 24 hours in the city of Guayaquil.

One of the main factors generating insecurity in the country is drug trafficking.  Analysts have pointed out that Ecuador has gone from being a transit country to a drug distribution center in Latin America and that more than one third of Colombia’s cocaine production arrives in Ecuador and eventually leaves Ecuadorian ports, mainly for the U.S. and Europe. Portals such as Insight Crime have mentioned that Ecuador is a convenient “superhighway” for moving cocaine shipments around the world.

Drug seizures reveal the nature and extent of the drug trafficking problem. In January of 2022 alone, 17.9 tons of prohibited substances were seized, compared to 8.4 tons during the same period last year. In this same month, 758 operations have been carried out in which 857 suspects were arrested, 63 weapons, 11,798 ammunition, and $25,450 in cash. Of the drugs seized during January 2022, 98% were cocaine, the rest was primarily comprised of marijuana, cocaine base paste, and heroin. Likewise, in a 72 hour timespan, 2.5 tons of drugs were seized in the ports of Guayaquil, equivalent to a total of 2,597 packages of cocaine.

In addition to local gangs that benefit from criminal activities, such as Los Choneros, Ecuadorian authorities have also reported the presence of Mexican cartels in the country, which have increased levels of violence. For instance, Giovanni Ponce, head of the Anti-Narcotics Division of the Ecuadorian police, says there is already evidence that the Sinaloa Cartel has been operating in Ecuador since 2009, and that in recent years the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) has also infiltrated the country.

Ecuadorian authorities have captured several emissaries and links between Ecuadorian gangs and Mexican cartels and seized drug shipments allegedly belonging to illegal Mexican organizations. Moreover, the former director of security of the Ecuadorian Army, Mario Pazmiño, has indicated that 37.5 percent of Colombia’s coca production passes through Ecuador and that the CJNG and the Sinaloa Cartel have outsourced their presence through the local gangs such as ‘Los Choneros’, ‘Tigretones’, ‘Chonekillers’, ‘Lobos’ and ‘Lagartos’, which maintain control of the routes, storage centers, and international drug distribution platforms.

The violence generated by gangs and drug cartels has also spilled over into prisons. In 2021, two massacres occurred in the Litoral prison that left nearly 190 dead, both of which were carried out by members of criminal gangs fighting for control of the prison. In April 2022, the Turi prison massacre in the city of Cuenca resulted in the death of at least 20 inmates. Other clashes between gangs have occurred in various prisons throughout the country, evidencing a serious risk factor for the prison population and prison guards.

In addition to prison violence and the increase in murders due to drug trafficking and gang confrontations, the current security crisis in Ecuador has resulted in other violent events. For example, in April 2022, a car bomb exploded near a prison in Guayaquil, causing material damage but leaving no victims. In September 2021, a drone attack with explosives was carried out in a prison in Guayaquil. In February 2022, also in Guayaquil, a 21-year-old man was abandoned with an explosive device strapped to his head, exploding moments later.  Finally, in early 2022, in the city of Durán, two bodies were found hanging from a bridge, a practice that is common in confrontations between Mexican cartels.

In the face of rampant violence and crime, the Ecuadorian government opted to decree a state of emergency in three provinces and deploy 9,000 police and military personnel. The government seeks to counteract the violence generated by drug trafficking and high crime rates. Security forces have also carried out various operations to reduce gang capabilities, arrest gang members, seize drugs and weapons, and restore security in areas affected by violence.

A Dark Future Ahead?

Ecuador is currently undergoing a serious deterioration of its security conditions and stability. The strategic context of the South American country is composed of a diversity of criminal actors that benefit from illicit businesses such as drug trafficking, leading to the income generated from illegal activities serving as fuel for violence and instability in Ecuador.

For this reason, the Ecuadorian government should focus its efforts on correctly identifying potential risks, the structural causes that allow the proliferation of drug trafficking, and carrying out operations in critical areas such as ports and prisons to reduce the capacity of criminal gangs. It is necessary to reduce the sources of income of illegal groups to stop their growth.

In the event that the Ecuadorian government fails to adequately intervene in the current crisis of violence and insecurity in the country, it is highly likely that Ecuador will face a dark and uncertain future, similar to that of countries such as Colombia during the 1990s.  The trend indicates that illegal groups, gangs, and cartels will continue to strengthen their capabilities and commit criminal acts, which will likely lead to an era of narco-terrorism in the country. Therefore, Ecuadorian authorities must confront the crisis with all the means at their disposal and overcome the actions of illegal groups.

 

Daniel Felipe Ruiz Rozo, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

Myanmar

Insurgency and the Narcotic Chain in India and Myanmar

Moreh is a small commercial gateway between India and Myanmar. It rests on the Northeastern side of the Indian border and is linked with Tamu, a small town in the Sagaing region in Northwest Myanmar. It is here that 99% of all land-based trade takes place between the two countries.

Amid the commercial exchange, the gateway also serves as a smuggling route for illegal trade and human trafficking. Narcotics like heroin and amphetamine-type stimulants are illegally smuggled across borders through this route. Other goods such as teak, gold, and firearms which are banned for trade without official license are also illegally traded.

A report by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GIATOC) stated that serious smuggling ‘which has the potential to destabilize the wider Northeast’ takes place despite the counteractive measures taken by the state. The Northeastern region which is highly reliant on informal economy makes it arduous for state policies to be strictly enforced. It is for this reason that concerned officials, at times ‘tacitly ignores’ the illegal flow of contrabands which do not pose ‘political threat’ to the country. Given, the recent pandemic crisis which devastated the formal economy, it has been reported that the smuggling cases in the region have been exacerbated.

Act East Policy and its Challenges

New Delhi’s plan is to fast track the development process in the Northeast through the Act East Policy, which paves the way for locals to gain more income opportunities and employability. However, in such a region which is overwhelmed with insurgency and illegal trade, major challenges arise for the implementation of developmental policies.

Developmental funds tend to indirectly finance insurgent groups through extortion and ransom demands by insurgent groups. Insurgent outfits who operate in these regions extort significant sums of money for every cargo truck that passes through National Highway 102 and 37. The GIATOC reported that for every cargo truck that passes through the NH, a sum of 50,000 Indian rupees (680 US Dollars) is being extorted. In cases of failure to make such payments, workers and truck drivers are often kidnapped for ransom.

In the case of developmental projects, extortions take place in the form of percentage demands. The department responsible for setting up any projects are illicitly levied taxes on a range of 2-10 percent. With such illicit activity thriving in the region, it curbs and delays development initiatives taken up by the government or multinational corporations.

The ongoing India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway Project which aims at linking India with the Southeast Asian countries has potential in creating ample opportunities for the region. However, the issue of insurgency and illegal trade can run parallel and can be exacerbated with the outset of new roadways to the region if such activities are not counteracted.

The thriving drug trade through the Golden Triangle (Myanmar, Thailand, Laos) can further expand its domain through these new linkages, influencing the wider northeastern region in India. It is reported that 80 unofficial crossing points exist between Moreh and Tamu. These crossing points are primarily used for smuggling. Hence, a substantial amount of drugs makes its way to Imphal which further leads to Kohima and on to Dimapur where, through its railroad, the drugs end up in Assam. From there the drugs are further distributed to the rest of India. Accordingly, the insurgents from the region make the best use of this opportunity and actively participate in this chain of narcotic supplies.

Extortion and the illicit trade of narcotics continue to destabilize both countries economies. The rising number of unemployment and the fatality rate of youths can both be attributed to these factors. Hence, a joint effort needs to be taken by both the countries to contain and curb such activities.

Recommendations

The Indian government has strategic approaches to tackle the supply of narcotics and drugs in the country, through both domestic policies and diplomatic approaches. However, with the thriving narcotic supply and extortion through the Moreh-Tamu roadways, it is evident there is more to do and that India along with Myanmar need to develop ground-level economic and security policy approaches in tackling the issue.

Though India has already elicited corporation from Myanmar in a bilateral agreement on narcotics control, more efforts are needed on the ground level. The exchange of intelligence and information is crucial; however, they are insufficient to tackle an issue which is linked to the heart of the narcotics trade.

Both India and Myanmar should set up more checkpoints on the newly established roadways and pay close attention to the 80 unofficial crossing points between both countries. For the Myanmar government this would be arduous, given, the Arakan Army and other insurgent group’s strong control over the region. However, with India, who has a slight upper hand in tackling the insurgency issue in the Northeast through its political approaches, security measures can be taken by strategically intensifying the presence of Border Security Forces and Paramilitary forces like the Assam Rifles in the border roads. Further, joint military operations with proper intelligence, the likes of Operation Sunrise in 2019, can be effectively utilized.

It should also be noted that economic measures are also paramount amid the security issues in both India and Myanmar. Hence, identifying the narcotic production and supply chain and further initiating better employment drives for the farmers and youths engaged in the illicit activity should also be prioritized.

With the ongoing political dialogue with some insurgent groups in the Northeast, there is potency in curbing the extortion and drug trades in the future. Hence, once a final settlement is reached, India can utilize the intelligence and manpower of the ex-insurgents to curb future drug trades and contraband supplies.

 

Vetilo Venuh, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

Nigeria

Examining Militancy in Nigeria: Mistakes of the South and Lessons for the North

On June 25, 2009, then President of Nigeria, Umaru Musa Yaradua, made a proclamation granting amnesty and unconditional pardon to everyone who directly or indirectly participated in the commission of offences, including those facing prosecution at the time, associated with militancy activities in the Niger Delta region. The requirement for this pardon to be effected was dependent on simply: the surrender of weapons and renunciation of militancy forms by concerned individuals at collection centres established for this purpose by the government. For about sixty days only, this proclamation stood valid, and in that time, over 20,192 individuals had accepted the terms of this amnesty offer.

In the same year, Boko Haram began an armed rebellion against the Nigerian government with multiple attacks across parts of northern Nigeria. Years later, Boko Haram became categorized as a terrorist group both in Nigeria and internationally, launching several attacks within Nigeria and neighbouring countries. For the last 12 years, Nigeria’s government steadily increased its responses to counter-terrorism, albeit widely perceived as counterproductive. More recently, the Nigerian government’s execution of the Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration, and Resettlement (DDRRR) program raises questions about its effectiveness.

The Identical Problem

The Niger Delta Militancy and the Boko Haram Insurgency are two main threats Nigeria has dealt with since its independence in 1960; both cases led to significant economic losses. Although the ideologies behind the two conflicts differ, the basis on which these ideologies come to be is very similar. In both scenarios, there is an ongoing deprivation of some sort, whether it be a functioning system where communities have access to basic amenities, or perceived injustice and marginalization, resulting in grievances that then form the ideological structure of these groups.

For the Boko Haram insurgency, endemic corruption is often cited as a menace in the Northern region that deprives the communities of even the basic needs that the government should provide. Widespread unemployment, lack of primary health care, massive poverty, and a general absence of the State all served as drivers for Boko Haram’s campaign in the North, especially in attracting recruits.

Similarly, unemployment, environmental degradation, and socioeconomic and political marginalization are unfortunate realities that communities in the Delta region face, leading to overwhelming amounts of militant activities. Between 2007 and 2009, the agitations in the Delta region worsened so much that Nigeria recorded an estimated daily loss of $58 million. The Presidential Amnesty Program (PAP) was an attempt to salvage the economic crisis and deteriorating security situation in the region.

Lessons for the Nigerian Government

A decade after PAP, security in the Delta region seems to be taking a new turn with the high rise of illicit markets, such as oil bunkering, as a means of survival. The underlying issues that fueled agitation in the area remain; unemployment rates have worsened, the perceived marginalization is still very much present, and the environment continues to suffer. By and large, the goal of the Amnesty program was bound to fail the moment it didn’t prioritize addressing the grievances that led to the agitations in the first instance.

With the surrender of over 37,000 repentant Boko Haram members thus far, and the ongoing DDRRR program, one can only hope that there is a plan to address the underlying issues that have fueled the Boko Haram campaign to avoid a repeat of the situation in the Niger Delta. Presently, there is a worsening insecurity dilemma due to the noticeable rise in illicit markets in the northern region, including those not linked to Boko Haram. In effect, it may be the worst of its kind should the government fail to be deliberate in preventing a recurrence of the northern conflict.

Joan McDappa, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

Spies

Ukraine Claims to Have Obtained a List of Russian Spies Operating in Europe

Ukraine asserts that it has acquired a list of Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) agents involved in criminal activities in Europe. More than 600 alleged Russian spies are purportedly operating in Europe.

According to reports, Ukraine has released names, addresses, and even SIM cards in an attempt to destroy these agents and damage Russia’s intelligence activities across Europe. Ukraine has been providing a list of FSB workers, which is the successor of Russia’s infamous and feared intelligence agency, the KGB.

Profiles, contact information, card details, “registration addresses,” and some financial details of 620 putative Russian spies are provided on the list, which was released in Russian and appeared to be unavailable on the ministry’s English version of the website.

John Sawers, who directed MI6 from 2009 to 2014, commented, “we are seeing the breadth of Russian aggressive intelligence activity across Europe. We probably only know 10% of what they’re doing; there will be a lot that intelligence services conduct that we don’t know about.”

The main concern is whether or not the list is accurate. Several of the identities appear to originate from prior leaks of FSB officers, according to Aric Toler, a specialist at the investigative reporting organization Bellingcat, but then other information on the list seems to be fresh.

He said that after doing some fact-checking, a lot of the items on the website’s list were massive database dumps since then. In other words, some of these spies have been revealed before and are not novices to the spy ring. However, several of these names are unfamiliar and could have far-reaching implications for Russian agents.

According to Representative Ritchie Torres from New York, the FBI should investigate the Russian diplomatic residence in New York City. At the same time, they have been appalled and alarmed by Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine. In that context, Representative Torres has formally requested that the FBI open an investigation into reports of espionage at the Russian diplomatic compound. Representative Torres also spoke to reporters about the white high-rise tower at 355 West 255th Street in the Bronx borough last month.

Since Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine, Data has been Compromised.

When Russian troops breached Ukraine’s borders in late February, massive volumes of information concerning the Russian state as well as its operations have now become public. According to WIRED, the new access provides fresh prospects into closed private entities, and it could be a valuable resource for authorities ranging from journalists to war crimes experts.

The material is subdivided into two categories: that which Ukrainian officials or their partners intentionally publicize and that which is obtained by hacker groups such as DDoSecrets and Anonymous. Many hackers have demonstrated their support for Ukraine by hacking Russian websites and exposing secret Russian material. As a result, hundreds of gigabytes of data and thousands of communications have been made public.

What Is the Difference Between the SVR and the FSB?

The FSB is much more than a typical security agency. It has progressed significantly since the early 1990s, when it was on the verge of disintegration, combining the tasks of an exclusive police service with those of an espionage agency and wielding great power. According to sources, the FSB recruits a wide range of tech-savvy and competent individuals to help them improve their activities across the cyber world. IKSI, the Institute of Cryptography and Information Security, is the agency’s unique institute that used to specialize in code-breaking but now concentrates on data protection.

The distinguishing factor between the FSB and the SVR is the scope of their operations. The FSB is responsible for guaranteeing the safety of the entire population of Russia, whereas the SVR focuses on the security of predominantly state officials. The FSB has a variety of specific capabilities that the SVR does not, while on the other hand, the SVR also has a wide range of scope in which the FSB cannot perform. The SVR is primarily responsible for foreign intelligence, whilst the FSB is responsible for domestic intelligence. After all, both of these groups continue to collaborate on analysis and exploration, which still results in keeping their government’s power and balance.

Spy-Master: What Now?

Historically, after a spy is uncovered, an intelligence agent may be imprisoned. On the other hand, professional case agents are practically always working beneath diplomatic cover and enjoy sovereign immunity, so they are promptly released. While the operatives they oversee could face long prison sentences, the worst that foreign intelligence agents can anticipate is public exposure and a statement by the opposing government that they will be declared persona non grata and should leave forthwith. However, in the event of an aggressive invasion, this is no longer the case and it now becomes a contest of wits and bravery.

Russian agents could have been a high-value target for the Ukrainian government because their names had previously been disclosed, and they may have withheld top-secret information. Furthermore, a large number of Russian officials have been expelled from European countries. More than 20 European countries have removed some suspected Russian intelligence officers who may have been identified on the leaked list, according to Greg Myre, a national security correspondent for NPR and an American journalist for over 15 years.

As the invasion progresses, expulsions are becoming more common, and Russia’s invasion has caused these large-scale expulsions in a rather coordinated manner thus far. While it’s too early to determine, it is possible that this would lead to a long-term reduction in diplomatic operations between the West and Russia.

As per this assessment, Russia’s constant and abrupt data and information leaks could provide Ukraine an advantage, especially because Europe is supporting them in this effort. Russia’s intelligence assets would be compromised, and their operations may not proceed as well as intended. For Russia, not having cybersecurity can lead to consequences, ranging from aggravation to complete shutdown, which could be seen as a gain for Ukraine.

 

Kristian N. Rivera, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

Prevent

Censorship Through the UK´s Prevent Program

As a part of CONTEST, the Prevent program aims to stop people from embracing different forms of extremism that may lead to terrorism in the UK. The Prevent program targets lawful activity such as thought, expression and behavior to predict future criminal activity. In 2015, the UK drafted its public sector to carry out the “Prevent Duty.” Teachers, doctors, therapists, and other professionals in these institutions are legally obligated to carry out national security duties by referring individuals to Prevent and adhering to “British values.” Prevent has had some criticisms in the past and continues to raise significant concerns in determining the signs of radicalization and who is thought to be radicalized.

According to a report by Rights & Security International and another report by Child Rights International Network, Prevents´ counter-terrorism measures are leading to self-censorship among political activists and students in educational settings, especially if they are Muslim. Both organizations have reported observing an effect known as the “chilling effect,” which describes the byproduct of regulations in deterring people from exercising their rights. These groups self-censor from fear of attracting the attention of authorities, being subjected to extensive surveillance, or being subjected to harsher measures, such as arrest.

The UK national curriculum for secondary education states that schools should use citizenship education to “provide pupils with knowledge, skills and understanding to prepare them to play a full and active part in society” through “equipping pupils with the skills and knowledge to explore political and social issues critically, to weigh evidence, debate and make reasoned arguments.” With the awareness that their behavior is monitored, students are more reluctant to express themselves in certain forms of expression that are seen as indicators of “radicalization” or “extremism,” like religious expression, particularly if they are Muslim, political activism, as well as discussion and debating terrorism as a political and social issue.

One peace activist from the report by Rights & Security International regularly attends schools throughout the UK to engage with students in citizen education. He observed the awareness among school leaders is producing a risk aversion when it comes to hosting debates on wider topics unrelated to terrorism.

In recent years there has been a higher proportion of Prevent referrals for far-right rather than Islamist related extremism; however, both reports suggest there is an over reporting of Muslims. Referrals for Islamist-related concerns are less likely to be assessed as requiring a Channel intervention than referrals for far-right extremism. One interviewee from the Rights & Security International report argues right-wing extremists are not treated with the same urgency since they target ethnic minorities who, by virtue of their minority status, are not considered to be representative of the UK. Imagining a “Muslim threat” through radicalized assumptions is presumed to be a threat to western democratic values, whereas far-right extremists are considered to threaten only individuals and community cohesion.

Recommendations 

Prevent focuses on monitoring activities, views, and behavior of individuals instead of uncovering the underlying causes and conditions conducive to an individual’s exploitation by extremist groups. According to the Neuchâtel Memorandum, the leading international standard on criminal justice and children in the context of counter terrorism, prevention strategies should focus on “key structural and societal factors” which renders children vulnerable to exploitation such as exclusion and discrimination, lack of access to education, domestic violence, lack of social relations, poor economic background, and unemployment.

State institutions should be willing to engage with nonviolent activists and civil society groups. Civic actors play a significant role in countering violent narratives by creating spaces for frustrated individuals to vent their grievances as well as a chance to challenge state injustices through nonviolent approaches. Allowing freedom of expression and enabling democratic spaces can make unknown issues visible and innovate potential solutions.

Finally, Prevent needs to reconsider its approach to human rights. In democratic societies, nonviolent individuals or organizations have the right to question, challenge, oppose, or support specific counter-terrorism laws, practices or policies. The Prevent program lacks proportionality, undermining human rights and the rule of law. The program may believe it is protecting the rights and safety for all but fails to realize it creates an environment of mistrust and misunderstanding, feelings vulnerable to exploitation by those who Prevent sought to protect against.

 

Camille Amberger, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

 

Philippines

The Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Proactive Countermeasure Against Abu Sayyaf

Members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) come from a split of the Moro National Liberation Front, which was renowned as an active terrorist organization in the Philippines in the 1990s. Additionally, reports indicate that Al-Qaeda has funded and backed Abu Sayyaf. The organization is affiliated with Jemaah Islamiyah and specializes in kidnappings for ransom, bombings, assassinations, and extortion, and are responsible for numerous violent incidents between 2011 and 2018.

The ASG is concentrated in the Sulu Archipelago’s Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, and Basilan Provinces, with a strong and active presence in Mindanao. On occasion, members also travel to the capital of the Philippines, Manila. Unsurprisingly, the ASG has also been characterized as a criminal-like group because they are more profit-driven than philosophical. Most of its factions declared their allegiance to Daesh in 2014.

Abdurajak Janajalani, the group’s founder and senior leader, founded ASG in 1991. Janjalani studied in numerous Middle Eastern countries with the help of a so-called “fundamentalist organization.” He grew politicized and formed extreme ideas after studying and traveling in Libya, Saudi Arabia, and other nations. Janajalani encountered Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan, according to the Center for International Security and Cooperation, and may have been one of the fighters who defended Afghanistan against the Soviet invasion. He considered Bin Laden’s philosophical narrative a gift because of his strong links with the past and was inspired to bring the ideology back to his homeland, the Philippines.

So, what exactly is Janjalani’s objective in Mindanao, Philippines? Janjalani’s goal is to create and execute an Islamic territory in southern Philippines, and an independent Salafist Sunni Islamic organization dedicated entirely to the Moros moiety.

For many years, it was assumed that this small group was fighting against the governments of the United States, Spain, and the Philippines. They claimed they had been repressed, resulting in the Bangsamoro fight, which molded their historical narrative. Furthermore, in 2016, the Islamic State released a video in which four “battalions” of militants from the Abu Sayyaf vowed loyalty to the group, indicating a visible allegiance to the Islamic State.

Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) Comprehensive Efforts After the Marawi Siege

After the Marawi Siege in 2017, the Philippine government has increased its efforts to persuade ASG members to hand over their arsenal and surrender. A ground campaign had been implemented to retake the city of Marawi in southern Philippines, where militants connected with Daesh had assumed control, which resulted in a subsequent crackdown on the ASG leadership.

Since 2017, there has been a decrease in ASG-related incidents. According to statistics from the 11th Infantry Division, a Philippine defense force tasked with countering militancy in southern Sulu Island, ASG’s heartland; the number of militants operating in the area has reduced from around 300 in 2019 to about 100. Militant groups associated with Daesh reportedly lost foreign support in Sulu. “We are no longer monitoring fund transfers from the outside,” said Maj. Gen. Patrimonio, commander of the 11th Infantry Division of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Capitulation and Clash: Continuous Efforts of the AFP in Mindanao

In the province of Basilan, a follower of the ASG was killed in a quick shootout. On Friday, March 4, 2022, the clash occurred in Mangal village, Sumisip, as per Brigadier General Domingo Gobway, commander of Joint Task Force (JTF)-Basilan. According to Gobway, the forces were in the middle of a tactical operation when they were informed of the presence of Buloy Parang, an ASG supporter, in the Mangal village. Parang operated as a courier and anti-personnel explosive planter in the Sumisip area for the ASG alongside Pasil Bayali.

Army commanders reported that troops of the 41st Infantry Battalion tracked down and fought pro-Islamic State terrorists in a firefight in the village of Bungkaong in Patikul town on March 26, 2022, one of the Abu Sayyaf’s few surviving sanctuaries. There were no “issues of enemy fatalities,” but Patrimonio said soldiers found numerous items left behind by the insurgents, including one M16 automatic gun. According to him, no soldiers were seriously injured or killed in the incident.

On April 2, 2022, two suspected members of the ASG were killed, and nine others were injured in confrontations with government troops in the Basilan area. According to Brig. Gen. Domingo Gobway, head of Joint Task Force-Basilan, four of the nine casualties were soldiers from the 64th Infantry Regiment.

Since January 2022, there have been more than four reports of ASG surrendering or clashing with the AFP every month. Along with these stories, local governments have sponsored programs to attract militants to return to the folds of the law and bring peace together. Various reports have been made about prominent ASG officials surrendering. “Our struggle was going nowhere,” remarked Faizal engagements with government troops, as per the military, the first of which occurred in 2014. Several of the ASG’s trainees come from the communities where the militants take refuge. Furthermore, other senior leaders at ASG have either been killed or surrendered to the AFP.

What is Next for Abu Sayyaf?

The apparent absence of Islamist militant operations in Mindanao, the Philippines’ southernmost island, is beguiling. Militancy in the region appears to be on the wane in 2020 and 2021. The AFP besieged terrorist strongholds and welcomed large numbers of insurgents’ surrenders, mainly from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the ASG.

Following that, unsuccessful operations and the decapitation of global terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda, Taliban, and ISIS, among many others, may have influenced the militant groups’ demise in the Philippines. Because these enormous organizations have also been crippled to their core, no support, allegiance, or finances have been shown to Philippine-based Islamic groups. Regardless of this gradual win, the presence of these groups is still evident. They may rise again, and may have spotted the right timing, for they still value their ideology. But then again, as long as the campaign against them is upheld, it might continuously dissolve in the coming years.

 

Kristian N. River, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

Kabul

Deadly Attacks Target Schools in Western Kabul

On April 19, 2022, at least nine individuals died, and more than 50 were injured, per UNICEF’s report, after a series of coordinated attacks occurred in Western Kabul in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood, home to a large Shia and Hazara population.  The first attack struck the Mumtaz Education Center early Tuesday morning, followed by three explosions, one caused by a grenade, at the Abdul Rahim Shaheed High School, where elementary school girls are still allowed to attend.

While no group has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks, violence is not a new phenomenon for the Shia community, which has previously been the target of attacks by the Taliban and the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K).

Immediately following the attacks, various government and organizational figureheads spoke out, regarding the attacks as reprehensible and senseless.  Attacks against civilians, especially innocent children at schools, has struck an international nerve.  Ramiz Alakbarov, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, reiterated that violence against schools is never acceptable, as schools should be a source of physical and emotional safety.  Moreover, UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric stated that “attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure, including schools, are strictly prohibited under international humanitarian law.”

Hazara Shia Community in Afghanistan

In 2019, the U.S. Department of State estimated that 10-15 percent of Afghanistan’s population are Shia, and of the Shia population, 90 percent are ethnic Hazaras.  The Hazara community predominantly resides in central and western Kabul.  Due to the minority status of Afghan Shias, they are frequently targeted by Sunni-based organizations, such as the Taliban and IS-K.  Ultimately, the Hazara community has “encountered persecution and systematic discrimination in their chronicle for more than a century.”

Initially, hopes rang high for the Hazara community when the Taliban collapsed 20 years ago.  The prospect of a democracy resounded throughout Afghanistan; however, attacks persisted against the Hazara Shia community, especially with the rise of IS-K and their mission to purge Afghanistan of any Shia Hazara Muslims.  Now, with the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, the Hazara Shia community is fearful that any progress they have made within society will be shattered and that attacks will steadily increase against their community.

Other Attacks Against the Hazara Community

While the attacks on April 19th in Kabul are horrific, sadly, they were not unprecedented.  Afghanistan’s Hazara community has been continuously and brutally targeted by both the Taliban and IS-K, from being the victims of targeted killings to discrimination to kidnappings.

Recent attacks include those in July 2021, when Hazara men in the village of Mundarakht were massacred by Taliban fighters “during a  two-day killing spree.”  Additionally, the attacks of April 19, 2021, are not the first-time schools have been targeted in a largely Hazara community.  In May 2021, at least 90 individuals were killed after a car bomb was detonated outside he Sayed Ul-Shuhada High School, targeting female students.  Also, the IS-K detonated a group of suicide bombers at a Shia mosque in October 2021, killing 47 and injuring at least 70.

Moving Forward

Ultimately, attacks against innocent children, especially at schools, should never occur.  The ruthlessness of these attacks must be met with a thorough investigation and changes within Afghanistan to protect the Shia and Hazara communities.  This is a moment in which the Taliban can demonstrate to the international community that they have truly changed by providing safety and security for all Afghans.  Finally, the international community must pay careful attention to the unrelenting attacks against the Hazara Shia community and take actionable steps to secure their well-being and prosecute any human rights violations.

 

Rise to Peace Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

Rise to Peace