Philip­pines urges Face­book to close ac­counts used by Is­lamist fighters

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

MARAWI CITY: The Philip­pines’s army has called on Face­book to shut down dozens of ac­counts Is­lamist mil­i­tants have been us­ing to spread “mis­in­for­ma­tion” about their at­tack on a south­ern town and to co-or­di­nate their bat­tle with se­cu­rity forces.

The mil­i­tary’s so­cial me­dia-mon­i­tor­ing team said it had iden­ti­fied 63 ac­counts un­der fake names it be­lieved were be­ing used by the Is­lamic State-al­lied Maute group and its sym­pa­this­ers.

“They are spread­ing lies, they are spread­ing mis­in­for­ma­tion and they are cre­at­ing more prob­lems in our fight against the ter­ror­ists,” spokesper­son Lieu­tenant- Colonel Jo-Ar Her­rera said in Marawi, where at least 200 mil­i­tants are still holed up 18 days af­ter their at­tempt to cap­ture the city.

Of­fi­cials said 500 to 1 000 civil­ians were trapped in the area oc­cu­pied by the fighters, which came un­der heavy aerial bom­bard­ment yes­ter­day.

Some civil­ians were be­ing held as hu­man shields, while oth­ers hid­ing in their homes feared cap­ture by the mil­i­tants and had no run­ning wa­ter, elec­tric­ity or food, said Zia Alonto Adiong, a politi­cian in­volved in evac­u­a­tion ef­forts.

Face­book does not per­mit fake ac­counts and in re­cent months the com­pany has launched sev­eral ini­tia­tives against fake news.

“Our Com­mu­nity Stan­dards do not al­low groups or peo­ple that en­gage in ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­ity or posts that ex­press sup­port for ter­ror­ism,” a Face­book rep­re­sen­ta­tive said.

“Fake ac­counts are also pro­hib­ited. We will re­move ac­counts and con­tent that vi­o­late these poli­cies when we are made aware of them.”

One of the main Is­lamist fac­tions dug in around the heart of the city is the Maute group, a rel­a­tive new­comer on the in­sur­gency-plagued is­land of Min­danao, which an­a­lysts say is more so­phis­ti­cated and me­dia-savvy than more es­tab­lished groups.

“Part of what we are look­ing at is rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion in so­cial me­dia. This is used to rad­i­calise the youth,” Her­rera said.

“We see mas­sive mis­in­for­ma­tion and the use of so­cial me­dia to fa­cil­i­tate pro­pa­ganda ac­tiv­i­ties.”

The seizure of Marawi has alarmed south-east Asian na­tions, which fear Is­lamic State, which is fac­ing set­backs in Syria and Iraq, is es­tab­lish­ing a strong­hold in Min­danao that could threaten the re­gion.

About 40 for­eign­ers have fought along­side the Filipino mil­i­tants in Marawi, most of them from In­done­sia and Malaysia, though some came from the Mid­dle East.

The Philip­pines is largely Chris­tian but Min­danao has a sig­nif­i­cant pop­u­la­tion of Mus­lims and Marawi is over­whelm­ingly Mus­lim.

Maute has joined forces with Is­nilon Hapi­lon, who was pro­claimed by Is­lamic State as its south-east Asia “emir” last year.

Mil­i­tary of­fi­cials said they be­lieved Hapi­lon and the two broth­ers who founded the Maute group were still in Marawi.

Of­fi­cials said the army was chip­ping away at the ter­ri­tory held by the mil­i­tants. The vol­ume of fire com­ing from the rebel side had dropped.

How­ever, the army had to pro­ceed care­fully be­cause civil­ians were be­ing held in mosques and madrasas, or re­li­gious schools, and the fighters had pre­pared for a long siege, stock­pil­ing arms and food in tun­nels and base­ments.

Ac­cord­ing to the lat­est of­fi­cial fig­ures, 138 mil­i­tants had been killed, with the death toll for se­cu­rity per­son­nel and civil­ians at 40 and 20, re­spec­tively. – Reuters

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