Follow-on Report (03 Jun 17): he Taliban insurgents group in Afghanistan has rejected the role of the group in the consecutive explosions in capital Kabul that left several people dead or wounded. The group’s spokesman in a statement said the fighters of the group have no role in the explosions that took place during the burial and funeral ceremony in Sarai Shamali area of Kabul. Mujahid claimed that the incident has links to internal dispute and enmity among the enemies of the group. According to the security sources, three back to back explosions took place as burial and funeral ceremony of Mohammad Salim Izadyar, the son of the deputy speaker of the Afghan Senate House was underway in the area.
Afghanistan – At least 10 people were killed and several wounded in an explosion near police offices and a mosque in Afghanistan's Herat province, police officials said on the 6 Jun 17. Abdul Ahid Wali Zada, police spokesperson, said the bomb was planted in a rickshaw that detonated near the Jama Masjid, a large mosque dating from the 12th century in Herat city on the 6 Jun 17. There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban said that the group was not involved in the attack. Images posted to social media showed plumes of black smoke rising above a mosque complex.
Afghanistan/Iran/Qatar//United States/How Iran, Qatar and Taliban links threaten the US mission in Afghanistan (12 Jun 17) – During the recent weeks, many reports have emerged that accuse Iran of boosting its engagement with the Taliban in the northern and eastern regions of Afghanistan. Historically, the Taliban had vowed and worked on cleansing northern Afghanistan from the Shiite tribe of Hazaras. To reinforce the main principles that shape Taliban’s ideology against Shi’iters, Taliban militants killed nine Iranian diplomats during the late 1990’s which prompted Tehran to post tens of thousands of its soldiers along its border with Afghanistan. These developments resulted in giving Tehran a big presence as a main player in this region, which saw the recent dropping of the “mother-of-all-bombs” by the United States under President Donald Trump. Northern and eastern Afghanistan has also recently seen the rise of ISIS, an enemy arrayed against many players, including US, Iran and the Taliban as well. An example of this clearly came to light early last month when many fighters were killed in clashes between ISIS and Taliban in the eastern province of Nangarhar. Unlike the Taliban, ISIS’ ideology is transnational and can be used to stir up Iran’s restive Sunni populations, the Middle East Institute observed in one of its recent reports titled “Iran’s Taliban Gamble in Afghanistan” by Joshua Levkowitz. Levkowitz, as well as many analysts, said that 2014 represents the critical juncture in Iran’s policy shift with regard to the Taliban.
This year, when most of the international coalition troops began withdrawing from Afghanistan, Iran moved to formalize its relationship with the Taliban by allowing it open a foreign office in Mashhad, giving an impetus to the banned organization’s international presence, the report said. It also added that ISIS gained strength in Nangarhar province after several regional groups, including Al Tawhid Brigade and Ansar Al-Khilafat Wal-Jihad, pledged formal allegiance to ISIS. These events too have served to push Iran and the Taliban closer together. Last December, Voice of America (VOA) reported that the Afghan parliament opened an investigation over military ties between Taliban insurgents and Iran and Russia. Iran stands accused by Afghan officials of harbouring Taliban fighters from Afghanistan in cross-border areas.
Taliban Families in Iran
“Families of a number of high ranking Taliban leaders reside in Iran,” Asif Nang, the governor of western Farah province, recently told Radio Liberty. “They live in cities such as Yazd, Kerman, and Mashhad, and come back to Afghanistan for subversive activities.” The governor said bodies of Taliban fighters who were killed in recent clashes in the provincial capital have been transported to their families in Iran. Nang told Afghan media that over 5,000 Taliban militants are present in the province. Locals say they often see Taliban crossing borders into Iran. “More new faces are seen these days coming from Afghanistan,” Jamaluddin, an Afghan refugee in Taybad city which lies close to the border with Afghanistan, told VOA. “They are barely seen in public places as they try to keep themselves away from other Afghans. Some Afghans say they are Taliban members.” Afghan lawmakers say Tehran is also supplying sophisticated weapons to the Taliban. “Iran not only has hosted Taliban families, it has supplied the group with weapons that could target and damage tanks and planes,” lawmaker Jumadin Gayanwal from south-eastern Paktika province said. The Wall Street Journal reported in June 2015 that Iran sent cash and weapons to the Taliban. In May 16, Al Arabiya reported that Taliban leader Akhtar Mansour was killed in a US drone strike as he returned to Afghanistan from Iran where he has been staying. In early February, a top US commander in Afghanistan said that Russia and Iran were supporting the Taliban in part to undermine US and NATO missions to bring stability to Afghanistan. Army Gen. John Nicholson told the US Senate Armed Services Committee that Iran is providing the Taliban in western Afghanistan with military and logistical support. Thus in the short term, the Taliban is furthering Iranian interests via its insurgency against the US-backed government and by providing support, Iran is preventing the United States from bringing stability to Afghanistan.
Ties with Qatar
According to many news outlets, Taliban members from their political bureau in Qatar, led by Mohammad Tayyab Agha, travelled to Iran in the spring of 2015 to discuss Afghan and regional affairs. The Taliban maintains a political office in Doha, for meetings with Afghan and foreign interlocutors after the controversial facility was formally opened in 2013. Taliban had three capitals as options, but according to reports, Mullah Omar himself preferred Qatar as the venue as he was claiming it was neutral. Some experts now link the revamped ties between Qatar and Iran, amid the GCC crisis, with the struggle in Afghanistan where US troops are now facing other enemies, and not only ISIS and Taliban.
Afghanistan/Da’esh – ISIS group said its fighters have captured Osama bin Laden’s infamous Tora Bora mountain hideout in eastern Afghanistan but the Taliban on the 15 Jun 17 dismissed the claim, saying they were still in control of the cave complex that once housed the former al-Qaida leader. Earlier, ISIS released an audio recording, saying its signature black flag was flying over the hulking mountain range. The message was broadcast on the militants’ Radio Khilafat station in the Pashto language late on the 14 Jun 17. It also said ISIS has taken over several districts and urged villagers who fled the fighting to return to their homes and stay indoors. A Taliban spokesman denied ISIS was in control, claiming instead that the Taliban had pushed ISIS back from some territory the rival militants had taken in the area. The Tora Bora Mountains hide a warren of caves in which al-Qaeda militants led by bin Laden hid from US coalition forces in 2001, after the Taliban fled Kabul and before he fled to neighbouring Pakistan. According to testimony from al-Qaeda captives in the US prison at Guantamo Bay, Cuba, bin Laden fled from Tora Bora first to Afghanistan’s north-eastern Kunar province, before crossing the border into Pakistan. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that Taliban fighters pushed back the Islamic State group from areas of Tora Bora that ISIS had earlier captured. A militant claimed that more than 30 ISIS fighters were killed in battle. He also added that a US airstrike on Taliban positions on the 14 Jun 17 that killed 11 of its fighters had benefited the Islamic State group. The remoteness of the area makes it impossible to independently verify the contradictory claims. Afghan officials earlier said that fighting between ISIS and the Taliban, who had controlled Tora Bora, began on the 13 Jun 17 but couldn’t confirm its capture. While the United States estimates there are about 800 ISIS fighters in Afghanistan, mostly restricted to the eastern Nangarhar province, other estimates say their ranks also include thousands of battle-hardened Uzbek militants. Last week Russia announced it was reinforcing two of its bases in Central Asia, in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, with its newest weapons because of fears of a “spill-over of terrorist activities from Afghanistan” by the Afghan ISIS affiliate. “The ISIS group’s strategy to establish an Islamic caliphate poses a threat not only to Afghanistan but also to the neighbouring countries,” Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said.
Australia/Da’esh – Australian police are treating a deadly siege in the southern city of Melbourne as an "act of terrorism" after a claim by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group that one of its fighters was the gunman responsible. Police shot dead Yacqub Khayre on the 5 Jun 17 after he held a woman hostage inside an apartment building in Melbourne. Police confirmed on the 6 Jun 17 that Khayre, who was acquitted of a plot to attack a Sydney army base in 2009, had shot a man dead in the foyer of the building. "This terrorist attack by a known criminal, a man who was only recently released on parole, is a shocking, cowardly crime," Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters in the capital, Canberra. "It is a terrorist attack and it underlines the need for us to be constantly vigilant, never to be deterred, always defiant, in the face of Islamist terrorism," he said. Victoria State Police Commissioner Graham Ashton said police were still investigating after ISIL claimed responsibility for the attack via its Amaq news agency. "We're aware of them having claimed responsibility, but then they always tend to jump up and claim responsibility every time something happens, so we note that that has happened," Ashton said. After holding the woman hostage for several hours, Khayre burst out of the building firing at police, who shot back and killed him. The woman was rescued unhurt, but three police officers suffered non-life threatening gunshot wounds. Amaq said the attack was launched because of Australia's membership in a US-led coalition fighting against the armed group in Syria and Iraq. Police were also investigating a telephone call made to the newsroom of Australian TV broadcaster Seven Network during the siege. The network said it received a phone call on the afternoon of the 5 Jun 17 from a distressed woman who said she was involved in a hostage situation. "We asked her more information, at that point a man came on the same line and said 'This is for IS, this is for al-Qaeda,'" Seven news director Simon Pristel said. "We asked for more information and that's when he hung up," Pristel added. Ashton said Khayre, a 29-year-old Australian of Somali heritage, had a long criminal history and was on parole at the time of the attack.
China/Pakistan/Da’esh – China has expressed "grave concern" over reports that ISIS has killed two Chinese teachers kidnapped in Pakistan. The man and woman, said by Chinese media to be a couple, were kidnapped by armed men on the 24 May 17 from the city of Quetta, the capital of Pakistan's Balochistan province, on the 24 May 17 on their way to teach a Chinese language class, a senior security officer told CNN last month. Amaq, a news agency affiliated with ISIS, said on the 8 Jun 17 that Islamic State fighters had killed two Chinese teachers who were being held in the Mastung, Balochistan. The group also released a video, which showed two bodies shot and bleeding on some grassy ground. "China resolutely opposes all forms of kidnapping of civilians and opposes all forms of terrorism and extreme acts of violence," said Hua Chunying, the spokesperson for China's Foreign Ministry, in a statement on the 9 Jun 17. The deaths underscore the risks of China's growing international reach and influence. The Global Times, a state-run tabloid, said that guarding Chinese nationals overseas had become a new and serious challenge for national security. "As China's international influence is growing, terrorist organizations target Chinese for ransom or just to create a sensation. Cases of Chinese being kidnapped have increased," the paper said in an editorial. Chinese nationals have settled in Pakistan in greater numbers since the announcement of a $46 billion investment plan known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in 2015, part of China's One Belt One Road initiative. "Given Pakistan's complex security situation, both sides need to study and formulate a more comprehensive security plan to fully cover Chinese in Pakistan," the Global Times added. Hua said authorities had been trying to rescue the hostages. Pakistan's military said on the 8 Jun 17 that its security forces conducted an operation from the 1-3 Jun 17 in Mastung, where it said it killed 12 terrorists with links to ISIS that had been hiding in caves but didn't mention the abducted Chinese teachers. It hasn't responded to the reports that the two Chinese hostages have been killed. Pakistan's Foreign Ministry also didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. Balochistan is home to the Gwador Port Complex, a flagship project of the economic corridor, but has been plagued by violence by different militant groups including the Pakistani Taliban and a separatist movement. Pakistan views CPEC, a combination of infrastructure projects ranging from road networks, a fiber optic cable project, railway lines, a deep-sea port, coal mines and solar farms, as a huge opportunity to develop its economy. Pakistan is home to roughly 20,000 Chinese, according to Mustafa Hyder, chief executive of the Pakistan-China Institute.
Follow-on Report (8 Jun 17): The so-called Islamic State says it has killed two Chinese nationals who were abducted from south-west Pakistan by armed men in late May 17. The IS-linked Amaq news agency made the claim in an Arabic statement on the Telegram messaging app. China's foreign ministry said it was "gravely concerned" and working to verify the information. The pair are said to have been studying Urdu at a language centre in the city of Quetta when they were abducted. According to local media reports at the time of the abduction, armed men took the couple as they left the centre. Another Chinese woman just managed to escape during the confrontation. At the time, neither IS nor any other militant group claimed that they had kidnapped the pair. Balochistan has seen kidnappings of foreign nationals in recent years by armed Islamist or separatist groups, sometimes for a ransom. Islamic State controls some territory in Afghanistan and has been seeking to strengthen its hold in Pakistan since 2015 when it carried out its first attack in the country.
China – A powerful explosion rocked the entrance of a kindergarten in eastern China on the 15 Jun 17 while children were leaving the school, killing at least seven people and injuring 66 others, the state media reported. The blast happened at around 1630 hrs local at the front gate of the kindergarten in Fengxian County in east China's Jiangsu Province when children were leaving the school, officials were quoted as saying by the state-run Xinhua news agency. Two people were killed at the site of the explosion while another five died later in hospital. Among the injured, nine were in critical condition, the Fengxian county government said. The number of children among the casualties had not been confirmed, the report said. It was not immediately clear what caused the blast, which rocked the kindergarten as parents were picking up children from the school. However, the Global Times and China Youth Daily newspapers cited witnesses as saying that a gas cylinder at a food stall had exploded. Pictures and videos posted online showed at least a dozen people lying outside the gate of the kindergarten and one woman was seen clutching her child, who is in tears. Footage of the scene showed some people covered in blood while others appeared to be unconscious and some even with their clothes burned off. Children were seen among the injured. "About 5 pm, we heard a blast and thought it might have been a gas explosion at a nearby food vendor," a local shop owner was quoted as saying by online news portal Sohu. "Many people could be dead," he said. In a separate video clip, people could be heard shouting: "Blast, blast, dial 110 quickly!" The gate of the kindergarten appeared to have been horribly bent, with shattered glass littering the scene. It is the latest tragedy to strike a kindergarten in China in recent weeks. A school bus packed with kindergarten pupils erupted in flames inside a tunnel in eastern Shandong province on May 9, killing 11 children, a teacher and the driver. Officials later said the fire was intentionally set by the driver, who was angry at losing overtime wages. China in the past witnessed knife attacks on kindergarten school children by disgruntled people. An explosion of this magnitude was rare. In January a man armed with a kitchen knife stabbed and wounded 11 children at a kindergarten in southern Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. 361 COMMENT: To may coincides. COMMENT ENDS
India/Da’esh – The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), has failed to establish a foothold in India despite it being home to the world's second-largest Muslim population, the country's home minister has said. Rajnath Singh said on the 3 Jun 17 that the government had successfully warded off challenges posed by the group, arresting more than 90 ISIL sympathisers. "India is the second-largest country as far as Muslim population in the world is concerned," Singh told reporters in New Delhi. "I can say with full responsibility that despite such a large population, [Da’esh] has not been able to set foot in India." Five members of Indian Mujahideen, a proscribed organisation, had been sentenced to death, underlining the government's successful efforts to check "terrorism", Singh added. His remarks come amid fears from the ruling BJP party that ISIL is trying to establish a presence in Asia as it comes under pressure in its heartland in Syria. In neighbouring Bangladesh, ISIL has claimed responsibility for a wave of killings since 2015, including a major attack on a Dhaka cafe last year in which 22 people, including 18 foreign hostages, were killed. The government has consistently ruled out the presence of such groups, blaming domestic attackers instead. Analysts say they pose a growing danger in conservative Bangladesh, which has been roiled by political turmoil and instability for many years.
Indonesia/Majelis/United States/Mujahidin Indonesia (MMI) – The US State Department officially designated the Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia (MMI) jihadist group as a foreign terrorist organization on the 14 Jun 17. The group was formed in 2000 and has ties to al Qaeda. State’s designation noted that MMI “has conducted attacks in Indonesia, including claiming responsibility for a May 2012 attack at the book launch of Canadian author Irshad Manji; the attack left three attendees hospitalized.” In addition, State explained that MMI was formed by Abu Bakar Bashir, a co-founder of Jemaah Islamiyya (JI), al Qaeda’s regional affiliate. Bashir left the group in 2008 and helped form another splinter group, Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT). Shortly after Abu Bakr Baghdadi’s announcement of the caliphate in 2014, Bashir pledged allegiance to Baghdadi on behalf of himself and JAT. However, Bashir’s two sons and several other leaders left and formed their own group, Jemaah Ansharusy Syariah. According to the Jakarta Post, more than 50 percent of Bashir’s followers abandoned him and joined Jemaah Ansharusy Syariah. It is directly part of al Qaeda’s global network now, according to its leader. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Islamic State launches suicide assault in Indonesia’s capital.] Mochammad Achwan, the emir of Jemaah Ansharusy Syariah, has also said that his group receives its orders from “our respected clerics in JN [Jabhat al Nusrah, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria], and we have supported the group in many ways.” State’s designation notes that MMI also supports Al Nusrah, now part of Hay’at Tahrir al Sham (HTS). Indonesians are known to hold ranks in both HTS and Baghdadi’s Islamic State.
Pakistan/Haqqani/Afghanistan – A top Pakistani diplomat has claimed the notorious Haqqani terrorist network has moved to Afghanistan, rejecting the claims of the Afghan officials after the deadly Kabul bombing was attributed to the network and Pakistan’s military intelligence. The Pakistani Ambassador to Washington, Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, told reporters in Washington on the 3 Jun 17 that the Afghan officials must focus on eliminating the terror network inside its soil rather than blaming Pakistan. Chaudhry also claimed that the network is on the run after the operations were launched in North Waziristan, insisting that “They have moved into Afghanistan and need to be taken care of there.” “It is outright barbaric terrorism, and we should condemn it with all the might that we have,” he said, adding that the attack should serve to “strengthen our resolve” to work with Kabul on counterterrorism operations. The Afghan intelligence said late on the 31 May 17 that credible intelligence information confirms the attack was carried out by the network on direct instructions and with the support of the Pakistani military intelligence, Inter Services Intelligence. The incident in the diplomatic area of Kabul took place around 0830 hrs local time after a vehicle packed with explosives was detonated, leaving at least 90 dead and more than 400 others wounded.
Pakistan/United States/Haqqani – The US has reportedly killed a senior commander for the Haqqani Network in a drone strike in northwest Pakistan on the 14 Jun 17. If confirmed, the strike is the fourth recorded in Pakistan so far this year. Pakistani officials told The Express Tribune that US unmanned aerial vehicles fired two missiles at a compound owned by Abu Bakar Haqqani in the district of Hangu in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. Abu Bakar and “two close aides” from the Afghan province of Paktika were killed in the attack. The Haqqani Network is an integral part of the Taliban, and is closely allied with both al Qaeda and Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence Directorate. The network’s leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is also one of two deputy emirs of the Afghan Taliban. Afghan officials accused the Haqqani Network of detonating the massive truck bomb in Kabul’s diplomatic quarters that killed more than 150 people, including mostly civilians, on the 31 May 17. The Taliban and Sirajuddin have denied involvement in the Kabul attack multiple times. The US has targeted the Haqqani Network in Hangu at least one other time in the past several years. On the 21 Nov 13 US drones hit a seminary in Tal in Hangu where Haqqani Network leaders had gathered. At least six Haqqani commanders were reportedly killed. Sirajuddin is believed to have been the target of the strike. Haqqani Network leadership has been targeted numerous times during the US drone campaign in Pakistan, which began in 2004 but was ramped up in 2008 under President George W. Bush. The US has killed 13 Haqqani Commanders, according to data compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal. Among those killed were Badruddin Haqqani, Sirajuddin’s brother and a top deputy; Jan Baz Zadran, the groups third in command; Mullah Sangeen Zadran, a senior military commander who was the Taliban’s shadow governor of Paktika; and Abdullah Haqqani, who coordinated and trained the group’s suicide bombers. The June 13 strike is just the fourth bombing reported in Pakistan this year. It is also only the fourth since the US killed Afghan Taliban emir Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour in an airstrike in Baluchistan province in May 16. In the most recent strike, on May 24, the US killed “Abdullah,” who was identified by the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan as “a great master in electronics.” Abdullah was associated with Akhtar Muhammad Khalil, the Taliban’s emir for North Waziristan. On March 2, US drones reportedly killed two jihadists as they rode on a motorcycle in the tribal agency of Kurram. An Afghan Taliban commander known as Qari Abdullah Subari is believed to have been killed in the strike, according to Reuters. And on Apr. 29, US drones reportedly killed al Qaeda commander Abdul Raheem. Drone strikes in Pakistan have tapered off significantly since the peak of operations against al Qaeda’s leadership and allied jihadist groups in 2010, when 117 strikes were recorded. In 2015, the US launched just 11 attacks. In 2016, there were only three more, including the one targeting Mansour in May 2016, which was the final one for the year, the last of President Obama’s second term.
Philippines – Dozens of tourists are feared injured after an ISIS gunmen opened fire at a hotel resort near Manila airport in the Philippines it was reported on the 1 Jun 17. The shooting happened at the popular Resorts World Manila in Pasay City, Philippines at about midnight local time. Explosions and gunshots were heard coming from the tourist hotpot and bloodied victims were later seen being stretchered out of the building. A masked gunman was seen on the second floor of one of the complex's four hotels, where he is said to have fired at guests and hotel employees. Footage, posted on social media, shows guests fleeing as gunshots ring out across the resort. ISIS have now claimed responsibility for the attack. Resorts World Manila is opposite Terminal 3 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, and is one of the busiest airport terminals in the country. As well as several hotels the complex includes a casino, shopping centre, cinemas, restaurants, clubs and a theatre. 'Resorts World Manila is currently on lockdown following reports of gunfire from unidentified men,' the company said on its Twitter account. IS said 'lonewolf soldiers' from its group carried out the attack, according to the SITE Intelligence Group that monitors terrorist organisations. There were no immediate reports of fatalities or injuries.
Follow-on Report: A gunman stormed a casino in the Philippine capital on Friday, setting gaming tables alight and killing at least 36 people who mostly suffocated in thick smoke, in an attack claimed by Islamic State but which officials insist was a botched robbery. The gunman killed himself in a hotel room after being shot and wounded by security officers at the Resorts World Manila entertainment complex, police said on the 2 Jun 17. A second "person of interest" who was in the casino at the time was cooperating with the investigation, police said. Most of the dead suffocated in the chaos. Many guests and staff had tried to hide from the gunfire rather than leave the building when the attack began shortly after midnight (1600 hrs GMT) and fell victim to the smoke, the fire bureau said. "Islamic State fighters carried out the Manila attack in the Philippines," the militant group's Amaq news agency said. But that was quickly rejected by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, who said all the evidence pointed to an attempt to steal casino chips. Police said they were not looking at other motives, although security in the capital had been beefed up. "This is plain and simple propaganda," Esperon said. "If the lone gunman was really an IS terrorist, why did he not shoot and kill people in the casino? He only went for the casino chips." The IS claim, which came nearly 24 hours after the attack, also contradicted a statement from Ernesto Abella, a spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte, who said there was no evidence linking it to fighting between government troops and Islamist militants in the country's south. "All indications point to a criminal act by an apparently emotionally disturbed individual," Abella told a news conference. "Although the perpetrator gave warning shots, there apparently was no indication that he wanted to do harm or shoot anyone." Oscar Albayalde, chief of the capital's police office, said those who died were in the casino's main gaming area. "What caused their deaths is the thick smoke," he told reporters. "The room was carpeted and of course the tables, highly combustible." A Resorts World official said the dead included 22 guests. At dawn, the body of the suspected gunman was found in a hotel room in the smouldering complex, which is close to Manila's airport and an air force base, police said. "He burned himself inside hotel room 510," national police chief Ronald dela Rosa told a news conference. "He lay down on the bed, covered himself in a thick blanket and apparently doused himself in gasoline." Resorts World Chief Operating Officer Stephen Reilly said casino guards had shot and wounded the gunman - armed with what authorities described as a "baby armalite" - during the attack. "Severe loss of blood from the gunshot wound significantly slowed down the assailant and resulted to his holing up in the room where he took his own life," Reilly said. Officials said at least 54 people were hurt, some seriously, as they rushed to escape what was at first believed to have been a militant attack. Survivor Magdalena Ramos, who was a guest at the hotel, said people began shouting "ISIS! ISIS!" when the gunfire began. The 57-year-old said she hid in a kitchen and then fled when the smoke became too thick. But police quickly said they did not believe the attacker had any militant connections. "We cannot attribute this to terrorism," national police chief dela Rosa told DZMM radio. Otso Iho, a senior analyst at Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Centre, said several aspects of the attack, including that the gunman fired in the air and his method of suicide, were unusual for an Islamist attack, and potentially undermined the IS claim. Earlier reports said the gunman may have been white, but police later said he appeared to be Filipino, although they were still establishing his nationality. Kimberly Molitas, a spokeswoman for the capital's police office, said 113 million pesos ($2.27 million) worth of casino chips stolen during the raid had been recovered. Videos posted on social media showed people fleeing as several loud bangs went off. "Even the security personnel panicked," casino guest Jeff Santos told a radio station. "Definitely, us patrons, we did not expect that, everyone ran away." Jeri Ann Santiago, who works in the emergency room at the San Juan de Dios hospital, said patients were suffering from smoke inhalation and some had fractures. None had gunshot wounds, she said. The Philippines has been on heightened alert amid a crisis in the south of the country, where troops have been battling Islamist rebels since May 23. Security was tightened around the presidential palace on Friday, with armoured personnel carriers stationed on approach roads and river ferries barred from passing close by. Taiwan's foreign ministry said four people from Taiwan were among those killed, and South Korea said one of its citizens had died, apparently after a heart attack.
Philippines – US Special Forces are assisting the Philippine military retake the southern city of Marawi from IS-linked militants, the Philippine army said on the 10 Jun 17. The forces are providing technical help and are not fighting, it said. President Rodrigo Duterte had earlier threatened to throw out US troops amid strained relations since taking office. Militants have been under siege since rampaging through the southern city on 23 May 17. The latest fighting has claimed the lives of 13 Philippine marines. Hundreds of militants, who have been flying the black flag of so-called Islamic State and are led by the self-styled, IS emir of the southern Philippines, Isnilon Hapilon, and the Maute brothers Omar and Abdullah, were still holed up in the city. The latest casualties bring the number of Philippine troops killed in the fighting to 58. At least 138 militants and 20 civilians have also been killed, the government says. Reuters news agency earlier quoted the US embassy in Manila as verifying the presence of US forces. It would not go into operational details but said the US forces were helping at the request of the Philippines government. The US has had a small logistical military presence in the Philippines, although a programme to advise the Philippine army on fighting the Abu Sayyaf militant group was discontinued in 2015. Mr Duterte, a strongman who has supported the extrajudicial killing of drug users and other criminals, has been highly critical of the US since taking power last June, straining a long-time alliance. But he had what the White House described as a "very friendly" phone call with President Donald Trump in Apr 17 and has since said his differences with the US were with President Obama's administration. Philippine army spokesman Brig Gen Restituto Padilla Jr has vowed that the national flag will be flying once again over all of Marawi by 12 Jun 17 - the Philippine national day. The army has missed past deadlines to rid the city of militants amid two weeks of air and ground assaults. Col Herrera said the militants were now restricted to three districts within the city. Col Herrera also said the army was checking reports that the Maute brothers, who lead the Maute group, had been killed. He cited "strong indications" but gave no further details. Officials say that foreign nationals are among the militants in Marawi, with the list of countries and territories including Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Yemen, India and Chechnya.