Just a few weeks after the Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte won rare favorable headlines by pledging to pull the National Police out of his ultra-deadly "war on drugs," he is already backpeddaling and threatening to send them back in—as cynics had predicted. Duterte made his threat Nov. 18 in a speech at a business event in his hometown Davao City (where he first honed his death-squad tactics when he served there as mayor). "The drug problem, if it becomes worse again, the police has to enter the picture," he said in his typically crude syntax. "I want it eradicated if possible."
On the heels of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's Manila meeting with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, NBC News reports that the Pentagon is considering a plan for the US military to conduct air-strikes on ISIS targets in the archipelago nation. The account quotes two unnamed defense officials who told the network that "authority to strike ISIS targets as part of collective self-defense could be granted as part of an official military operation" likely to be named in the coming days. The strikes would probably be conducted by armed drones.
Israeli authorities revoked permits for Palestinians to enter Jerusalem and Israel in response to a deadly attack in East Jerusalem's Old City—then launched a a mass arrest campaign, rounding up hundreds for being in the city without a permit. At least 350 Palestinians were detained in a single day, with those holding West Bank IDs being forced to board buses and sent back to the occupied territory. A police statement added that Israeli forces are continuing security measures in an around the Old City "to prevent further attacks and respond if necessary." One Israeli police officer was killed in the knife attack outside the Old City's Damascus Gate. Israeli soldiers responding to the attack killed three Palestinians.
After threatening to do it for months, the Philippines' ultra-hardline President Rodrigo Duterte on May 23 declared martial law on the conflicted southern island of Mindanao. The declaration takes immediate effect and will last for 60 days—officially. But in his comments upon the declaration, Duterte said it could last up to "a year"—and (not for the first time) favorably invoked the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, under whose harsh rule the Philippines saw a decade of martial law. "To those who have experienced martial law, it would not be any different from what president Marcos did," Duterte said. "I'll be harsh."
A new Qaeda-affiliated faction, the Jama'at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (Group for Support of Islam and Muslims, JNIM), is said to be behind a string of recent deadly attacks in Mali's conflcited desert north. The group claimed responsibility for a May 7 suicide assault on a military base at Almoustarat, outside the northern city of Gao, that left seven Malian soliders dead. The jihadists breached the base perimeter, and were able to capture at least three vehicles and large amounts of weapons before French troops arrived. JNIM also claimed a May 3 raid on a camp of the MINUSMA peacekeeping force outside Timbuktu that killed a Liberian solider. Under the nominal command of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), JNIM is apparently attemtping to reunite the fragmented jihadist insurgency in northern Mali. It has apparently absorbed the Murabitoun group, until now the most active jihadist faction in Mali. (Journal du Mali, May 9; Long War Journal, May 8; UN News Centre, May 4)
A new Qaeda affiliate in Syria has claimed responsibility for a March 11 double bomb attack targeting Shi'ite pilgrims in Damascus that killed at least 40 Iraqis and wounded 120 more. Footage broadcast by Syrian state TV showed two buses with their windows blown out, the surroundings splattered with blood and littered with lost shoes and clothing. The attack took place near Bab al-Saghir cemetery, named for one of the seven gates of the Old City of Damascus. The pilgrims had arrived to pray at the cemetery after visiting the Sayeda Zeinab shrine outside Damascus, where the grand-daughter of the Prophet Mohammad is said to be buried. In a statement claiming responsibility, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (Liberation of the Levant Organization) said the attack was "a message to Iran" over its support for the Bashar Assad regime. The group is identified as a breakaway faction of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (the former Nusra Front) that has maintained ties with al-Qaeda. (BBC News, Reuters)
In a "worrying reversal" for global anti-drug efforts, the latest annual report from the United Nations Office for Drug and Crime (UNODC) finds that opium cultivation in Afghanistan increased 43% over the past year—with a total estimated yeild of 4,800 tons compared to 3,300 tons in 2015, The area under poppy cultivation increased 10% according to the report—clocking in at 201,000 hectares (496,681 acres), up from 183,000 hectares (452,200 acres). Simultaneously, there was a 91% decrease in eradication across the country—with no eradication reported at all in the top producing provinces. "It is very disturbing to see a considerable increase in poppy cultivation in the north which may be linked with a deteriorating security situation in the region," said Andrey Avetisyan, UNODC's chief in Afghanistan, at an Oct. 23 Kabul press conference.
A blast at a Sufi shrine in the Pakistani region of Balochistan killed at least 60 and injured more than 100 on Nov. 12. The Shah Noorani Shrine in the mountain town of Hub, straddling Lasbela and Khuzdar districts, was packed with worshippers when the bomb exploded. Devotees were gathered for a traditional dhamal dance ritual at the shrine to the saint Shah Bilal Noorani. The shrine's remote location has impeded rescue efforts. The shrine attracts devotees from all over Pakistan, as well as neighboring Iran. The local franchise of ISIS issued a statement taking responsibility for the attack through its Amaq News Agency, saying it was carried out by a suicide "martyr," and sought to target "Shi'ites." The shrine is venerated by Sunnis and Shi'ites alike.