Priest says on video he and 200 others held hostage in Philippines

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This image made from undated militant video shows Father Teresito Suganob, a Catholic priest in Marawi, Philippines, who was taken hostage by militants linked to the Daesh group. (Militant Video via AP)
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Government troops head to the frontline as fighting with Muslim militants in Marawi city enters its second week Tuesday in the southern Philippines. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
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A Philippine Marine guards communication equipment, high-powered firearms, including a 50-caliber machinegun, ammunitions, uniforms, and black Daesh-style flags on Tuesda in Marawi city, southern Philippines. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
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Rotten bananas still hang from a stall at a public market with a damaged cargo truck in the background following last week's siege by Muslim militants that resulted in the killings of its riders. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
Updated 30 May 2017
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Priest says on video he and 200 others held hostage in Philippines

MARAWI, Philippines: A Catholic priest who was taken hostage by militants linked to the Daesh group says he’s being held alongside 200 other captives, including children, in what appeared to be a battle-scarred part of a southern Philippine city.
In a video apparently taken under duress by militants, Father Teresito Suganob said his captors wanted the military to withdraw its forces from Marawi, where Islamic militants still hold pockets of territory after a week of gunbattles with the army.
A colleague of Suganob confirmed to The Associated Press that the man in the video is the priest. It was not clear when the video was taken or who released it online, and whether Suganob believed what he was saying or was forced to say it.
“We want to live another day, we want to live another month,” Suganob said, standing in front of debris and partially burned buildings. Directing his remarks to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, he said, “We want to live few years and in your generosity, Mr. President, in your heart, we know you can make something (happen).”
Marawi Bishop Edwin de la Pena confirmed that it was Suganob in the video.
“I was glad to see that he is alive but we were also saddened because the fact that the terrorists are ready to negotiate means they are pressed against the wall and they are also desirous to get away from the situation and their bargaining chip are the hostages,” he said in a telephone interview.
“It was taken in Marawi and it was him, and the emotions that came out I think were really authentic,” he said, adding that Suganob looked truly afraid when an explosion was heard in the background. De la Pena said he could not tell where in Marawi the video was made.
He said Suganob’s mention of people with him made it appear that they are also alive.
“It gives us a lot of hope that these people are worth saving, because they are still alive,” he said. “If the air strikes continue, they will really be in danger.”
Suganob said in the video that he was taken prisoner along with a professor from Mindanao State University, two female church workers and seven teachers.
“Along with us are about 200 carpenters, household helpers, children and youth, and ordinary Christian settlers,” he said. The presence of that number of hostages could not be independently confirmed.
The siege in Marawi followed an unsuccessful army raid last Tuesday that attempted to capture militant commander Isnilon Hapilon, who has been designated by the Daesh group as its leader in the Philippines.
Marawi, a mosque-studded city about 800 kilometers (500 miles) southeast of Manila, is regarded as the heartland of the Islamic faith on southern Mindanao island.
Hapilon escaped and gunmen loyal to him swept through the city of 200,000 people, torching buildings and taking hostages.
Soldiers have now taken control of about 70 percent of Marawi, military chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Ano told the AP on Tuesday. More than 100 militants, government forces and civilians have been killed.
Up to 90 percent of Marawi’s people have fled to safety amid the intense fighting and military airstrikes, and rescuers in ambulance vans have crisscrossed the city in recent days to save hundreds of trapped residents.
Some communities resemble ghost towns. Neatly stacked bananas, avocados and vegetables in an abandoned market were beginning to rot and were being eaten by a cat and a chicken. Helicopters frequently buzzed overhead and sporadic gunfire and blasts shattered the eerie silence.
Ano said the militants include foreign fighters and local gunmen who want to establish a regional branch of the Daesh group.
“They wanted to show the world that there is an ISIS branch here which can inflict the kind of violence that has been seen in Syria and Iraq,” Ano said, using an acronym for the Daesh group.
Ano said the gunmen were prepared to fight because they had been planning to unleash attacks during the holy month of Ramadan to capture the attention of the Daesh (Islamic State) group.
The unrest has boosted fears that the violent ideology of the Daesh is gaining a foothold in the restive southern Philippines, where a Muslim separatist rebellion has raged for decades.
President Duterte declared martial law in the south through mid-July, but lawmakers on Tuesday asked for a public session of Congress to determine whether it is still necessary.
Duterte’s declaration unnerved Filipinos who lived through the rule of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who imposed martial law in 1972 and used it to hold power for more than a decade.
The army insists the drawn-out fight in Marawi is not a true sign of the militants’ strength because the military has held back to spare civilian lives. About 40-50 gunmen were still holed up in two buildings in Marawi’s business district, Ano said.
Still, the fighters have turned out to be remarkably well-armed and resilient. Experts have warned that as Daesh is weakened in Syria and Iraq, battered by years of American-led attacks, Mindanao could become a focal point for regional fighters.
Three Malaysians, an Indonesian and possibly Arab extremists have been killed in the Marawi fighting, Ano said. He said Hapilon was still hiding somewhere in the city and that authorities were working to confirm whether another top militant, Omarkhayam Maute, had been killed.
At least 65 militants and 20 Philippine troops and police have been killed, the military said. The bodies of 19 civilians have been recovered and local authorities have reported more civilian deaths still to be tallied.
The fighters’ support network in Marawi remains unclear, though the power of one militant group — the Mautes — has grown in recent years. Led by members of the city’s Maute clan, the group has become increasingly active across Lanao del Sur province, where Marawi is located, and has been instrumental in the fighting this past week.
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Associated Press writer Teresa Cerojano in Manila contributed to this report.


Swedish diplomat in ‘seventh heaven’ following release from Iran

Updated 3 sec ago
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Swedish diplomat in ‘seventh heaven’ following release from Iran

  • “I have been waiting for this for almost 800 days,” Floderus said

STOCKHOLM: Swedish citizen Johan Floderus said he was in seventh heaven following his release from an Iranian prison on Saturday, in a recording published on the Swedish government’s website on Sunday.
Sweden and Iran carried out a prisoner exchange on Saturday with Sweden freeing a former Iranian official convicted for his role in the mass execution and torture of political prisoners in Iran in 1988, while Iran released two Swedes being held there.
“I’m in the sky but emotionally I’m in seventh heaven. I have been waiting for this for almost 800 days,” Floderus said in a recording of a telephone call between him and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson while he was on the flight back to Sweden.
Floderus, a European Union employee, was arrested in Iran in 2022 and charged with spying for Israel and “corruption on earth,” a crime that carries the death penalty.
He said he had dreamt of the day of his release endless times. “Only to later wake up on that damn concrete floor,” he said. “Now it is starting to sink in that I have left Iranian airspace and I am on my way back home again.”
In a radio interview earlier on Sunday, Kristersson dismissed criticism from the wife of Swedish-Iranian dual national, Ahmadreza Djalali, who remains in an Iranian jail after Tehran refused to include him in the exchange.
“I have a lot of respect for her disappointment, but don’t really understand the criticism. The alternative would have been to leave the two Swedes who could now come home,” he told Swedish radio.


Labour steps up efforts to win Muslim votes ahead of election

Updated 9 min 12 sec ago
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Labour steps up efforts to win Muslim votes ahead of election

  • Party is targeting 13 typically pro-Labour seats with Muslim populations greater than a fifth of the total
  • Labour is concerned its record on Gaza might cost it support ahead of polling day, despite 63% planning to back it on July 4

LONDON: The Labour Party is increasing its campaigning in areas where it fears losing votes over its stance on the war in Gaza ahead of the upcoming UK general election on July 4.

The party has identified 13 typically pro-Labour constituencies in areas with large Muslim populations where it is directing activists to focus their activities.

Labour is set to win a vast majority at the election, but losing such seats could prove an embarrassment for leader Sir Keir Starmer.

The Labour website identifies the 13 target constituencies with Muslim populations greater than 20 percent of the total on a larger list of 28 seats for people registering to canvass for the party ahead of the election. They include seats in the typical Labour strongholds of Birmingham, Luton and Bradford.

The party has already suffered at the hands of voters disgruntled by Sir Keir’s approach to Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, losing the Rochdale by-election to former Labour MP George Galloway.

Nationwide local elections in May also saw a lower-than-expected turnout in some areas, with Muslim voters in particular avoiding voting for the party where they might once have been expected to after Sir Keir proved reluctant to back calls for a ceasefire in Gaza and even suggested Israel “has the right” to cut off electricity and water supplies to the enclave.

Sir Keir later clarified he meant Israel had a “right to self-defense” and Labour has subsequently backed calls for a ceasefire, but some within the party fear significant damage has been done to its reputation with British Muslim voters.

The party is still expected to perform well overall with the Muslim community, with recent polling by Savanta suggesting 63 percent plan to vote Labour on July 4, many citing healthcare and the economy as more pressing concerns than Gaza. Around 20 percent of Muslim voters cited the war as their main electoral concern.

However, over 40 percent placed Gaza in their top five ranking of issues most important to them, with 86 percent of those also saying they would consider voting for an independent candidate running on a pro-Palestine platform.

The organization Muslim Vote has published a list of alternative candidates running on similar platforms, including calling for a ceasefire, sanctions on Israel and demanding more action on Islamophobia.

The director of the British Future think tank, Sunder Katwala, told the Observer: “I think it makes sense for (Labour) to worry, and to be seen to worry, and to be putting energy into (Muslim communities). Across the whole of British society, this is the demographic group where it’s most likely that Labour might slip backwards in support, not gain in support.

“The evidence in the local elections was of a surprisingly big impact. And the evidence in the national polling is of a surprisingly small impact. And that might be because voters are thinking strategically about the use of different elections.”

He added: “The Labour party is losing votes among Muslims and not any other group but is probably more popular among Muslims than any other section of the electorate.

“I think the (Muslim) student (activist) group is deserting Labour, and their mums and dads and grandparents are probably sticking with Labour much more.”


Thousands of Muslims gather to celebrate Eid across Philippines

Updated 16 June 2024
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Thousands of Muslims gather to celebrate Eid across Philippines

  • Muslims constitute about 10 percent of the majority Catholic population
  • President Marcos declared June 17 a national holiday to observe Eid Al-Adha

MANILA: Filipino Muslims across the country gathered on Sunday for Eid Al-Adha prayers to mark the Feast of Sacrifice.

There are some 12 million Muslims among the nearly 120 million, predominantly Catholic population, according to data from the National Commission for Muslim Filipinos collected in 2024.

They live mostly on the island of Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago in the country’s south, as well as in Manila, constituting the third-largest Muslim community in Southeast Asia after Indonesia and Malaysia.

Earlier this month, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. declared Monday, June 17 a national holiday to observe Eid Al-Adha, the second of the two main holidays observed in Islam.

In the Philippine capital region, thousands of Muslims braved the rain for Eid prayers, gathering at the Quezon Memorial Circle for a communal prayer that began early in the morning.

“It rained as early as 5 a.m. First it was just drizzles, then there was a downpour, and then the rain stopped. Good thing that we were able to perform the prayer before it rained again,” Nords Maguindanao, a Muslim resident of Quezon city, told Arab News.

“There were thousands who came to celebrate Eid Al-Adha. The heavy rain did not stop us from congregating … Today we literally had to endure the rain, sacrifice our time and patience. The bad weather was really a test of patience. But overall what is important is that families are united on Eid.”

Maguindanao, who was with his wife and children, has attended the gatherings at Quezon Memorial Circle for years. It is one of the major venues for Eid celebrations in the area, the other being the Quirino Grandstand in Manila.

“The unity of Muslims in Quezon City was shown through this Eid prayer because of the overwhelming attendance of the city’s Muslim constituents,” he said.

Ali Macabalang, a local journalist from Kidapawan City in the country’s south, told Arab News that he gathered with hundreds of other Muslims at a small park to celebrate Eid this year.

“Eid Al-Adha for me is the very moment of performing or seeking atonement and renewal of connections to the Almighty Creator,” Macabalang said.

“After the prayer, the Imam delivered a sermon reminding Muslims of their duties not only to God but to the community, then to themselves. After that, families partake of the food, which is the basic component of every celebration.”

Eid Al-Adha commemorates the Prophet Ibrahim’s test of faith when he was commanded by God to sacrifice his son, and also marks the culmination of Hajj, the annual pilgrimage that is one of the five pillars of Islam.

In Cotabato City, the main city of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, local authorities celebrated the holiday with reflections on their struggles over the years.

Bangsamoro, the only Muslim-majority territory in the Philippines covering central Mindanao, was until 2014 at the heart of a four-decades-long separatist struggle. The BARMM was formed in 2019 as part of the region’s transition to autonomy, which will culminate in 2025, when it will elect its legislature and executive.

“Today is a moment for every believer to remain true to our core values: that, amidst the challenges of life, the sacrifices we endure hold profound meaning and wisdom,” the BARMM’s chief minister, Murad Ebrahim, said.

“It is through the sacrifices and obedience of the Bangsamoro people that we have progressed in our struggle for justice and equality.”


What to know about Trump’s outreach with Arab Americans led by his daughter Tiffany’s father-in-law

Updated 16 June 2024
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What to know about Trump’s outreach with Arab Americans led by his daughter Tiffany’s father-in-law

  • Skepticism remains among Arab American community about whether Boulos can shape potential decisions by Trump
  • Many remain offended by Trump’s first-term immigration ban from several majority Muslim countries

LANSING: Donald Trump’s allies are working to win over Arab American voter s who are unhappy with President Joe Biden’s support for Israel.
The effort is led by Massad Boulos, whose son married Tiffany Trump, the former president’s younger daughter, two years ago. Boulos, a Lebanese-born businessman, is now using his connections in the Arab American community and meeting with its leaders in Michigan, home to many Arab American Democrats who are disenchanted with Biden.
But any apparent political opportunity for Trump may be limited. Many Arab Americans remain offended by Trump’s ban, while in office, on immigration from several majority Muslim countries and other remarks they consider insulting. Trump also has criticized Biden for not being a strong enough supporter of Israel.
In interviews with The Associated Press, Boulos outlined his outreach efforts and discussed his plans. Those who have met with him shared their thoughts on whether the strategy is working.
An unknown emissary
Boulos, who is frequently overseas managing a Nigerian-based conglomerate, first became directly involved in US politics in 2019 when he met Trump. At the time, his son Michael was dating Tiffany Trump.
Before the 2020 election, Boulos assisted with Arab American outreach in a minor role. His involvement has significantly expanded this year as Trump allies aim to exploit divisions within Biden’s Democratic base. Boulos is working closely with an Arab Americans for Trump group that has set up operations in Arizona and Michigan.
The Michigan meetings
In May, Massad and Michael Boulos traveled to metro Detroit with Richard Grenell, a key foreign policy adviser to Trump and his former ambassador to Germany, to meet with a group of close to 40 Arab American activists from across the country.
A little over a week later, Boulos returned for a more extensive round of engagements. He conducted individual meetings with several prominent community leaders and organized larger gatherings, each drawing nearly 50 Arab American community members.
Those who have engaged with Boulos so far are skeptical about the impact of these efforts. They note a lack of substantial evidence supporting the assertion that Trump is the better candidate for Arab Americans.
“Massad is unable to convince people to come to Trump’s side because he hasn’t offered anything substantial to the community,” said Osama Siblani, a publisher of the Arab American News in Dearborn.
Electoral impact
Both major parties have focused on the Arab American vote due to the community’s significant population in Michigan, which is expected to play a decisive role in the presidential election.
Trump won Michigan by just over 10,000 votes in 2016. Biden retook the state for the Democrats in 2020 by a roughly 154,000-vote margin.
Michigan holds the largest concentration of Arab Americans in the nation, with more than 310,000 residents of Middle Eastern or North African ancestry, according to the most recent census.
More than 100,000 Michigan Democratic primary voters in February cast ballots for “uncommitted” in the presidential race, enough to pick up two delegates. In two Muslim-majority Michigan cities, including Dearborn, which holds close to 110,000 people, the “uncommitted” vote defeated Biden in the Democratic primary.
The Trump connection
Boulos is the latest relative to rise in Trump’s political circle. The former president has a long history of putting family members and their relatives in key roles in his campaigns and at the White House.
Recently, Trump handpicked his daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, as the Republican National Committee’s co-chair.
During his first term, he appointed his daughter Ivanka as a senior White House adviser and his son-in-law Jared Kushner to oversee major issues such as Middle East peace, criminal justice reform and the government’s coronavirus response.
Boulos calls Trump a “family friend.” But Boulos insists that his outreach efforts so far have been “more of a personal effort to reconnect with friends.” He adds that the key messages emerging from meetings with Arab Americans are communicated to Trump and influenced a recent statement on the Middle East posted on Trump’s social media platform, Truth Social.
But to some attendees of the meetings, the direct connection to Trump matters little when Boulos can’t make promises on future policy.
“Family members are are fine. But at the end of the day, we have to sit down with someone who’s going to be a policymaker,” Siblani said. “And knowing Trump, only Trump can sit down and talk about his policy.”


Hamburg police fire shots at axe-wielding person at Euro 2024 fan parade

Updated 16 June 2024
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Hamburg police fire shots at axe-wielding person at Euro 2024 fan parade

  • Major police operation is now underway and the attacker is currently receiving medical care for injuries

FRANKFURT: German police fired shots at a person who threatened officers with a pickaxe and an incendiary device on the sidelines of a Euro 2024 soccer fan parade in central Hamburg on Sunday, according to a police post on social media platform X.
A major police operation is now underway and the attacker is currently receiving medical care for injuries, the post added.
The incident occurred in the St. Pauli district of the city as Poland and the Netherlands prepare to play against each other in Hamburg’s Volksparkstadion at 3 p.m. (1300 GMT).
Fan marches are scheduled ahead of the games, and a parade for Dutch supporters was held at 12:30 p.m. (1030 GMT), around the time of the incident.
Germany is hosting the month-long tournament that began on Friday night.