NEW YORK, August 8 -- Islamic State is reinvesting in its ability to carry out sophisticated operations from Europe to South Asia by the end of 2019, a United Nations report has found.
“The ISIS covert network in the Syrian Arab Republic is spreading, and cells are being established at the provincial level, mirroring that which has been happening since 2017 in Iraq,” the UN Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team said. In the near term, the Islamic State will rely on locally-planned attacks in “unexpected locations,” similar to the Easter bombings carried out in Sri Lanka, they assessed. But the report, presented to the Security Council in July, warns that externally-planned attacks in high profile locations could ramp up as early as four months from now. “ISIS will reinvest in the capacity to direct and facilitate complex international attacks when it has the secure space and time to do so. The current abatement of such attacks, therefore, may not last long, possibly not even until the end of 2019,” it said. Tens of thousands of Islamic State loyalists and their children are now corralled in desert camps in northeastern Syria, where they were detained by US-backed Kurdish forces following the surrender of the last pocket of the caliphate in March. Neighboring Turkey has now threatened to seize the area from the Kurds – raising the possibility that some of Islamic State’s most hardcore members could escape.
Get out of jail
The UN report estimates that up to 30,000 foreign nationals who traveled to Syria and Iraq to join the caliphate are still alive, whether at large in the region, detained or relocated to Europe. These caliphate veterans now pose a radicalization threat, whether in prison or out. “The radicalization of criminals within the prison system remains a critical concern in Europe, where prisons provide a venue for inmates afflicted by poverty, marginalization, frustration, low self-esteem and violence to be influenced by radical ideologies,” it said. “In addition, some of the first wave of returnees from the ‘caliphate’ to be imprisoned are expected to be released in the coming year.” The monitoring team which carried out the report emphasized that data on the exact number of repatriations of foreign fighters to Europe and other regions remains sketchy. Approximately 2,000 nationals from the former Soviet states are now detained in northeastern Syria. Central Asian nations including Tajikistan and Uzbekistan cite their own citizens returning from the battlefields of Syria and Iraq are currently their primary terrorist threat. Central Asian migrant laborer communities in Russia and Turkey are also seen as particularly vulnerable to recruitment. The report also flags South and Southeast Asia as prime targets for Islamic State returnees, as evidenced by both successful and thwarted attacks. “Two troubling trends observed are the targeting of places of worship and the continued prominence of women in operational activities,” it said. Both returnees and attempted jihadists have been linked to attacks in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.
Islamic State has been resourceful in financing its activities post-caliphate, the report found, using small and medium-sized business to generate revenue, offering “seed money” to new affiliates and stashing valuable antiquities for a rainy day. “One Member State described ISIS affiliates being treated in a manner similar to start-up businesses, receiving ‘seed money’ and advice from head office,” it said. The group is estimated to have anywhere from US$50-300 million at its disposal to carry out its activities. However, “the group is adapting to its insurgency role with far fewer demands on its financial holdings.” The UN investigators learned that monetary transfers persist, with family members of active militants using personal or small business bank accounts in countries neighboring a given conflict zone – the cash then passed on by courier. Mobile payment applications and crypto currencies are cited as ripe for exploitation. A special ISIS unit – the ministry of “natural resources” – is believed to be responsible for the sale of antiquities which the group had excavated in Iraq and Syria. “Details of traded antiquities, as well as the current location of any stored antiquities, are assessed to be known only by ISIS leaders.” Preserving that leadership, at the top of which is self-proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, remains the primary concern of the group.
MANILA, March 24 -- The Philippines is "earnestly looking forward" to actively participating in the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation to be held next month in Beijing, Philippine Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez said in a statement released on Sunday.
Dominguez said the forum, which will be attended by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, will be a major catalyst for more comprehensive international collaboration aimed at creating a better future for economies across the globe. "We appreciate China's Belt and Road infrastructure program that will more closely link the economies of Asia and Europe. This program will shape the future of this century and the next century," Dominguez said.
Dominguez, who visited Beijing last week, has underscored the remarkable progress made in enhancing bilateral relations between Manila and Beijing as both sides expressed optimism over the "pragmatic cooperation" between the two countries becoming even stronger in the coming years. In his meeting with Chinese Commerce Minister Zhong Shan, Dominguez said that over the past two years under Duterte's leadership, the Philippines has seen its relationship with China growing closer and more comprehensive. He also thanked China for the generous support it has extended to the (Philippines') ambitious effort to modernize its infrastructure and build a more competitive economy.
"We look forward to implementing more strategic infrastructure projects supported by highly concessional financing from China," Dominguez said during a dinner-meeting between officials of the two countries to discuss the status of the Philippines' priority projects being rolled out with funding assistance from China.
The Philippine officials discussed the Philippines' economic performance and outlook, presented the long list of infrastructure development projects under the "Build, Build, Build" program, and invited investors to do business in the Philippines and ride on the economy's growth trajectory. The "Build, Build, Build" program, which was rolled out by the Duterte administration in 2017, intends to spend 8 to 9 trillion pesos (roughly $160 billion to $180 billion) in the medium term on building roads, bridges, airports, seaports and railways in the Philippines. "Like China, the Philippines is well positioned for growth. The Philippines, with a fast-growing economy and business-friendly tax reforms, is perfect for investment," Dominguez said, pointing to his country's "strong fiscal position" that has paved the way for the government to invest in an ambitious infrastructure program that works in concert with the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative. "We look forward to a seamless network for the flow of goods, the exchange of best practices, and boundless cooperation in the coming years," Dominguez added.
MANILA, March 18 -- The Philippines officially withdrew from the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Sunday, a year after President Rodrigo Duterte announced the country would leave the organization.
Duterte’s decision became final over the weekend when the Supreme Court of the Philippines declined to grant an injunction requested by a group of human rights activists. Duterte had announced plans to leave the organization after the ICC announced a preliminary investigation into allegations that he and his government have committed crimes against humanity and mass murder during his so-called war on drugs. Romel Bagares, a lawyer for the rights activists, called the decision “a terrible setback in the long fight against impunity in the country,” according the New York Times, adding that the ICC was the country’s last resort given that the government has failed to stop thousands of deaths in Duterte’s bloody drug war.
Duterte began a crackdown against the sale and use of illegal drugs shortly after taking office in 2016. Critics have accused Duterte of using the campaign, which has reportedly killed thousands of people, as cover for a politically motivated attempt to consolidate power and silence his opponents. Just last week, the president of the Philippines publicly named 46 politicians who he says are involved in the drug trade. Amnesty International condemned the Philippines’ ICC departure in a statement on its website. “The cynical withdrawal of the Philippines from the ICC is a futile attempt to evade international justice and to halt the ICC’s work,” the statement said. The International Criminal Court is an Hague-based intergovernmental organization “established to investigate, prosecute and try individuals accused of committing the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole.” The court focuses on crimes like genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Burundi was the first and only other member to leave the ICC in 2017, after an investigation was opened into human rights abuses in the country.
"SET drops ahead of Thai Raksa Chart ruling"
BANGKOK, March 6 -- Thai stocks dropped ahead of the Constitutional Court' ruling on the Thai Raksa Chart Party, while Philippine shares jumped 2% on Wednesday, led by real estate and consumer stocks.
The Stock Exchange of Thailand main index fell 13.49 points or 0.82%, in turnover of 44 billion baht, with all sectors except energy in the negative territory. The court will give its ruling on Thursday whether to ban Thak Raksa Chart for nominating Princess Ubolratana as its candidate for prime minister in the March 24 general election. The Election Commission had asked the court to dissolve the party after it nominated the princess. "Tomorrow's ruling will be worth closely monitoring as it may trigger a start of heightened political risks that could derail the Thai economy," OCBC Bank said in a note.
The Philippine benchmark stock index, which was Southeast Asia's worst performer last month, gained the most among regional markets as a selloff last week made valuations more attractive. Foreign investors bought net 273 million pesos (US$5.23 million) in equities on Wednesday, exchange data shows. SM Prime Holdings, the country's second-largest firm by market value, advanced 3.6%, while real estate conglomerate Ayala Land Inc gained 2.3%.
Singapore stocks closed lower for a second session in three, dragged by industrial and consumer stocks. Index heavyweight Jardine Matheson Holdings Ltd dipped 2.1%, while food retailer Dairy Farm International Holdings Ltd weakened 4%.
Meanwhile, Indonesian shares snapped two consecutive sessions of losses, helped by consumer and financial stocks. Clove cigarette maker Gudang Garam Tbk PT rose 2.1%, while lender PT Bank Mayapada Internasional Tbk added 11.4%.
Manila, February 24 -- The Philippines's top diplomat has defended his comments on Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler's massacre of Jews as "historical fact", amid brewing diplomatic tension between Manila and Berlin.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr wrote on social media on Saturday that President Rodrigo Duterte's previous comparison of his deadly war on drugs to the Nazi leader's killing of millions of Jews during the Holocaust "is a metaphor". "The killing of 6M Jews, 20M Russians & innocents like Anne Frank in WW2 is historical fact," Locsin added in the Twitter post. Locsin's comment followed reports on Friday that Germany's foreign ministry had summoned the Philippines's acting ambassador to Berlin, to protest earlier remarks he had made about Duterte's controversial Holocaust statement to a journalist during a visit to the German capital on Monday.
In the interview with ARD journalist Arnd Henze, Locsin responded to a question about Duterte's 2016 remarks, in which the head of state appeared to compare himself to Hitler, and said he would be "happy to slaughter" millions of drug addicts in the Philippines, like the Nazis did to millions of Jews. "I said the same thing," Locsin told Henze. "I myself said the same thing before he even said it."
In a statement on Friday, the Department of Foreign Affairs in the Philippines described a clip of an interview as "unfortunate" and "biased". "The video posted by Mr Henze on his blog is incomplete and misleading. It failed to show Mr Henze's deliberate attempts to provoke Secretary Locsin into giving controversial remarks," it said.
In response to Germany's diplomatic protest, Locsin said on Friday: "Rich, coming from one of those who did not just comment on it but perpetrated it." In a separate post, Locsin confirmed the summons writing on Twitter, "Yes, what now? Berlin embassy is handling it; I already told them to tell the German Foreign Ministry to send the German ambassador to me because I'd rather finish my own fights than have others do it." Writing in the Filipino language, Locsin ended his post with a quip seen by critics as homophobic.
"Real estate, financial shares drag Philippine market"
BANGKOK, February 19 -- Philippine stocks fell the most on Tuesday dragged by losses in the real estate and financial stocks, as most of the Southeast Asian equity markets ended lower, while Malaysia gained as investors took positions amid the earnings season.
The Philippine index dropped about 1% to its lowest level since Jan 8, dragged by losses in real estate and financial stocks. "The Philippine market right now is in search of a new catalyst and with none in sight, some investors are already choosing to take profit," said Rachelle Cruz, an analyst with AP Securities. BDO Unibank Inc shed 3.2%, while Ayala Land Inc dropped 3.7% to close at its lowest level since Jan 3. "Ayala Corp has $293 million worth of bonds that are exchangeable to shares of ALI and that will mature by that time (in May). Some investors may look to cash in, exerting a downward pressure on ALI's share price," a note from RCBC securities said.
Meanwhile, the Malaysian index gained 0.8% to a three-month closing high on the back of materials and utilities. Petronas Chemicals Group Bhd rose 3.9% ahead of its fourth quarter result announcement. Shares of Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd strengthened more than 1%, after posting a jump in quarterly net profit.
Real estate stocks drove the Vietnam index marginally higher, with Vinhomes JSC and Vingroup JSC rising 6.1% and 2%, respectively. Singapore and Indonesia indexes traded relatively lower.
"SET drops, other Asean stock markets rise"
BANGKOK, February 14 -- The Stock Exchange of Thailand index ended lower, while other Southeast Asian stock markets closed higher on Thursday as a surprise jump in monthly Chinese trade data brought slight relief amid continued focus on Sino-US talks.
The SET index eased 3.09 points or 0.19% to 1,652.64, in turnover of 45.88 billion baht, despite gains in shares of telecom operators. True Corporation jumped 25 satang or 4.81% to 5.45 baht, Advanced Info Service added 2.50 baht or 1.37% to 184.50 and Jasmine International ended 25 satang or 4.24% higher to 6.15 baht. PTT shares however dropped 75 satang or 1.53% to 48.25 baht. The region's biggest trading partner, China, reported better-than-expected trade figures for January, easing some fears of an imminent slowdown in the economic powerhouse. High-level talks between the country and the United States have been a major focal point for markets this week. US President Donald Trump is considering a 60-day extension of the Mar 1 deadline for higher tariffs on Chinese imports, Bloomberg reported on Thursday, citing unnamed sources.
The Philippine benchmark firmed 0.9% to snap four consecutive sessions of losses and led the gains among its regional peers. Financial stocks were the biggest boost to the index, with BDO Unibank Inc rising 2.3% to post its best close in nearly 11-months. Asian fast-food giant Jollibee Foods Corp jumped 1.7% and was also among the top gainers on the Philippine benchmark after reporting a rise in fourth-quarter net income. Philippine markets had seen large outflows over the past four sessions as foreign investors rebalanced their portfolios.
Meanwhile, the Vietnam stock exchange continued to gain for the fourth straight day, closing 0.8% up, supported by a persisting rally in the country's real estate sector. Property developers Vingroup JSC and Vincom Retail JSC gained 3.6% each. "(The) Vietnamese market has been moving in a positive direction on Wall Street cues. Investor sentiment has also been supported by a possibly positive outcome of the Trump – Kim summit slated for Hanoi later this month," said a stock broker with SSI Securities Corp. "Traditionally, cashflows into the market in Vietnam are often strong in the first quarter of the year as several corporate investors have abundant cash at hands."
The Malaysian index ticked up 0.2%, after data showed on Thursday that the country's economy expanded 4.7% in the October-December quarter from a year earlier, in line with expectations, ending four quarters of slowing growth.
Singapore's index ended 0.3% higher ahead of a fourth-quarter GDP report due on Friday. The country's economy likely grew at a slower pace than initially estimated as growth in the city-state's manufacturing and services sectors came under strain from slowing demand, a Reuters poll showed.
"Energy stocks lead SET gains, Philippine shares continue slide"
BANGKOK, Februari 13 -- Thai shares rose on Wednesday, with energy stocks leading broad-based gains, while the Philippine index declined for a fourth consecutive session.
Singapore stocks closed at a more than 4-month high, leading the gains in Southeast Asia after US President Donald Trump said he could relax the China trade deal deadline. Trump said on Tuesday that he could let the March 1 deadline to reach a trade agreement "slide for a little while," although he added he was not inclined to do so. However, his remarks spurred a rally in Wall Street overnight, as well as a number of Asian players.
The Stock Exchange of Thailand index advanced 13.24 points or 0.81% to 1,655.73, in turnover worth 45 billion baht. Shares of energy stocks were among the largest boosts to the index. PTT Plc added 50 satang or 1.03% to 49 baht. PTT Global Chemical Plc gained 1.75 baht or 2.59% to 69.25 baht and PTT Exploration and Production Plc advanced 2.50 baht or 2.06% to 124 baht.
The Philippine index, which has outperformed its peers this year so far, declined for a fourth consecutive session to end 1.1% lower, pressured by industrial and financial stocks. Industrial conglomerate JG Summit Holdings Inc dropped 3.9% and was the top loser on the benchmark, whereas BDO Unibank Inc fell 1.1%. Philippine's latest downturn appears to be a flow driven correction due to international investors reallocating their funds, said Rachelle C Cruz, an analyst with AP Securities.
The Singapore index, which has a high trade exposure with China, outpaced its peers for the day with a 1.4% rise, posting its highest close since Oct 3, 2018. Financials bolstered the benchmark with lender United Overseas Bank Ltd jumping 2.5%.
The Vietnam benchmark rose for the third day, closing about 0.8% higher, driven by financial and consumer stocks.
Malaysian shares ended 0.1% lower ahead of the country's fourth-quarter GDP figures released on Thursday.
"SET ends flat, Malaysia stocks lead losses in Asean"
BANGKOK, February 8 -- Thai shares lost slightly on Friday, while Malaysia stocks led losses, as investors were rattled after the United States dismissed the likelihood of a quick resolution to the long drawn Sino-US trade war.
US President Donald Trump on Thursday said he would not be meeting China's Xi Jinping before the March 1 deadline, sparking fears that two economies would not be able to clinch a pivotal trade deal.
The negative sentiment dampened regional markets and pushed broader Asian shares lower, though trading remained thin as China was closed for Lunar New Year holidays.
The Stock Exchange of Thailand index eased 1.43 points or 0.09% to 1,651.68, in turnover worth 56.86 billion baht. The SET index dropped 16 points shortly after the open before it rebounded to end flat.
The Malaysian index ended 0.4% lower, falling the most across the region. Index heavyweight Axiata Group Bhd fell 4.4% to an over two-month low, dragging the benchmark. According to local media reports Axiata Group and its unit Ncell are to foot a tax bill of 61 billion Nepalese rupees (US$536.03 million), excluding late fees and fines for the capital gains tax on Ncell buyout deal following a Supreme Court ruling.
Philippine stocks fell 0.4%, hurt by losses in financial and telecom stocks. For the week the Manila benchmark index dropped 0.9%, marking its first weekly loss in 2019. PLDT Inc dropped 3.4%, while shares of Bank of the Philippine Islands slid 1.4%.
The Indonesian benchmark closed down 0.2%, with material and energy stocks leading declines. The index marked its first weekly loss in the new year, snapping a rally of six weeks. Charoen Pokphand Indonesia Tbk PT dropped 1.9%, while United Tractors Tbk PT slipped 2.9%.
Vietnam's financial markets remained closed this week for Lunar New Year holidays.
"SET drops 5.60 points, Malaysia shares lead Asean peers"
BANGKOK, February 7 -- The Stock Exchange of Thailand index dipped on Thursday, while Malaysia shares led the gains, as optimism over a trade deal between the United States and China were renewed following indications of further official talks in Beijing next week.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Wednesday that he and other US officials would travel to Beijing to continue trade talks, eyeing a deal before the March 2 deadline. China is the biggest trading partner of the region. With easing trade frictions, a dovish Fed and prospects of increased infrastructure spending, foreign investors are now returning to Southeast Asian markets, propelling these markets to record an upward trend for the most part. So far this year, foreign investors have been net buyers of stocks in markets such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.
The SET index eased 5.60 points or 0.34% to 1,653.11, in turnover of 50 billion baht. The index was dragged by consumer and health care stocks. Shares of Bangkok Dusit Medical Services Plc lost 30 satang or 1.27% to 23.30 baht and Siam Makro Plc dropped 1.25 baht or 3.29% to 36.75 baht.
The Malaysian benchmark rose 0.6%, leading gains in the region after thin trading in the region this week due to a two-day closure on account of the Chinese New Year. Utilities and consumer cyclicals boosted the Malaysian benchmark index, with Tenaga Nasional Bhd and Maxis Bhd climbing 3.7% and 2.5%, respectively.
The Singapore index gained 0.5% to its highest level since Jan 25, helped by telecom and industrial stocks. "Singapore equities has some catching up to do as the US markets have done well over the last two trading sessions. At the same time, traders are also placing bets ahead of the budget on February 18, 2019," said Liu Jinshu, head of research at Tayrona Financial Pte Ltd. Shares of Singapore Telecommunications Ltd gained 1% while those of Jardine Matheson Holdings Ltd firmed 1.3%.
The Philippine stock index climbed 0.5%, with gains concentrated in industrial stocks. SM Investments Corp and JG Summit Holdings Inc gained over 2% each. The Philippine central bank kept its benchmark interest rate steady for a second straight meeting on Thursday, saying inflation risk had fallen on lower crude oil and food prices. Indonesian stocks also ended the session slightly lower, hurt by consumer and financial stocks. Charoen Pokphand Indonesia Tbk PT slipped 2.8%, while Bank Central Asia Tbk PT slid 0.5%.
Vietnam financial markets remained closed for Chinese New Year holidays.