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US: Philippines among 5 countries with most terror incidents

In its “Country Reports on Terrorism 2016” released Wednesday, the State Department said more than half or 55 percent of the 11,072 terrorist attacks happened in Iraq, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and the Philippines. Rudy Santos

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines is among the five countries with the most number of terror attacks last year, a US State Department report said.

In its “Country Reports on Terrorism 2016” released Wednesday, the State Department said more than half or 55 percent of the 11,072 terrorist attacks happened in Iraq, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and the Philippines.

Reacting to the report, Malacañang said the Duterte administration is doing everything it can to fight terrorism.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the Duterte administration has adopted a “whole systems approach” to curb terrorism, including efforts to alleviate poverty.

“We recognize that poverty in Mindanao and the sense of hopelessness it brings spawns terrorism. It is for this reason that while we are fighting terrorism, we are also fighting poverty,” Abella said in a press briefing.

Abella said President Duterte has approved a comprehensive peace roadmap that “aims to provide peace and development by addressing the issue on the Bangsamoro.” 

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“As they say, we can sign a hundred peace agreements but if those on the ground do not immediately feel the dividends of peace, those agreements will not be sustainable,” the Palace spokesman said.

“In other words, what we are doing is really confronting it, engaging the situation with the whole systems approach,” he added.

The State Department said the emergence of extremists affiliated with the Islamic State (IS), the persistent kidnapping by the Abu Sayyaf, bombings and frequent attacks on government forces “indicated that domestic and international terrorism remained a serious problem.”

The report came as the battle over Marawi between government troops and IS-linked militants entered its ninth week.

The military has said 413 terrorists, 98 soldiers and policemen and 45 civilians have been killed in the fighting since the Maute terror group began its siege of Marawi on May 23.

Col. Edgard Arevalo, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Public Affairs Office chief, said the US and other friendly states are aware of the global terror menace and have been helping the Philippines in its anti-terror campaign.

“It’s not only the US, but allied states are also helping in our sustained fight against terror,” Arevalo said.

The US State Department report also maintained that the Duterte administration’s focus on illegal drugs “has increased workload and operational tempo for security forces.”

Some investigations and responses to terrorist incidents, the report added, were inefficient because multiple agencies have jurisdiction over counterterrorism efforts.

“Responsibilities between law enforcement and military units involved in counterterrorism missions are often not clear, information sharing is moderate, and command and control arrangements often depend on personal relationships between incident commanders,” the US State Department said.

In the report, the State Department said the US is working with the Duterte administration to monitor and investigate groups engaging in or supporting terrorist activities.

It said the Philippine government recognized the threat posed by radicalized Filipinos and IS supporters traveling to Mindanao to promote violent extremism in the country or seek safe haven.

The report said the US military provided equipment, training and support to the government as it launched numerous operations, particularly in Mindanao, to arrest and disrupt terrorist organizations.

Counterterrorism operations have largely succeeded in constraining the activities of transnational terrorist groups such as the Abu Sayyaf and the Dawlah Islamiyah Lanao (DIL) – commonly referred to as the Maute group – to Mindanao, the report said.

A University of Maryland study included in an annex to the report noted a nine percent decrease in the number of terrorist attacks in 2016 and a 13 percent decrease in deaths due largely to fewer activities in Afghanistan, Syria, Nigeria, Pakistan and Yemen.

Although terrorist attacks took place in 104 countries in 2016, they were heavily concentrated geographically, the study said.

Fifty-five percent of all attacks took place in Iraq, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and the Philippines, and 75 percent of all deaths were in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Nigeria and Pakistan.

The State Department report said Southeast Asia was an area of concern for weapons of mass destruction proliferation and transit.

The number of islands and maritime traffic in the Sulawesi Sea and the Sulu archipelago make it a difficult region to secure. – Alexis Romero, Jaime Laude

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