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Police: Malaysia’s Top IS Operative Killed in Syria

Malaysia’s most-wanted member of the Islamic State militant group has been killed in Syria, police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said Monday, citing intelligence information.

Muhammad Wanndy Mohamed Jedi, 26, who was on a U.S. list of global militants, was the alleged mastermind behind a grenade attack on a Kuala Lumpur bar last June which injured eight people. It was the first and so far only Islamic State attack that caused casualties in Malaysia.

“After reviewing intelligence, the Royal Malaysian Police can confirm that Muhamad Wandy [sic] has been killed in an attack in Raqqa, Syria on April 29,” Khalid said on his Twitter account, confirming previous reports of Muhammad Wanndy’s death in a drone strike on the Islamic State-held city.

Police had earlier cast doubt on the reports, saying that it was possible Muhammad Wanndy had faked his own death.

Born and raised in the west Malaysian state of Malacca, Muhammad Wanndy left for Raqqa with his wife in 2014. He first drew public attention the following year when he appeared in a video showing the beheading of a Syrian man.

Using the name Abu Hamzah Al Fateh, he quickly made a name for himself as an Islamic State online recruiter and fundraiser.

Statistics from the police counterterrorism unit show that at least a third of the more than 250 people arrested for Islamic State-linked activities in Malaysia between 2013 and 2016 were recruited by or linked to Muhammad Wanndy.

In March, he was named a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” by the U.S. Treasury, making him a high-profile target for law enforcement agencies worldwide.

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Cambodian Raids Net 70 Tons of Fake Cosmetics, Ingredients

Cambodian authorities say they have confiscated nearly 70 tons of counterfeit cosmetics and raw materials for making them, a major haul that included imitations of South Korean, Thai, Japanese, Chinese and U.S. brands.

The head of the government’s Counter Counterfeit Committee, Mech Sophana, said Monday that raids in March and April in Phnom Penh and adjoining Kandal province found where the counterfeit items were produced and resulted in the arrests of six people – four Chinese, a Vietnamese-Cambodian dual national and a Cambodian – for illegal production of cosmetics. He said three were detained and the others were ordered not to leave the country pending further investigation.

 

He estimated the products’ value in the millions of dollars, even though they could be hazardous to health.

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UN: Greater ASEAN Cooperation Needed to Combat Transnational Crime

The United Nations says Southeast Asia’s economic success has been marked by an expansion of organized crime and terrorism challenges, especially in areas of weak governance and limited capacities.

The U.N.’s Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said the economic gains have led to major upgrades in air, road, rail and port infrastructure, as well as an easing of cross-border controls.

It added that while new economic and development opportunities have occurred, it has also led to “differences and disparities between countries’ abilities to address transnational organized crime and related security challenges.”

UNODC Deputy Executive Director Aldo Lale Demoz, speaking at a regional security conference, said the signs are there of common security challenges from transnational crime.

“The increasing connection to Southeast Asia with the rest of Asia and the global community is indeed impressive. But whilst increased connectivity hold many clear benefits for trade and economic growth, here in Asia we see clear evidence of growing security challenges including those posed by transnational crime and terrorist groups,” he said.

Southeast Asia has reported strong economic gains and trade development. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) reported the region’s combined economic output (GDP) at $2.55 trillion in 2016, with merchandise trade at $1.06 trillion in the first half of 2016, of which 24 percent was intra-ASEAN.

“A significant threat’

Somchai Seanglai, an advisor to the Thai justice minister, said the pace of ASEAN’s development, integration and regional security challenges highlighted the need for increased cross-border solutions.

“Transnational crime poses a significant threat to sustainable economic development with detrimental effect, including of corruption, and the distortion of the open market, it also poses a threat to national security and security operations,” Somchai said.

Somchai added the expanded trade has led to risks of an increase in crimes, including human trafficking, money, drug and precursor chemical trading, counterfeit goods, wildlife and forest products, as well as terrorists “able to move across borders more easily.”

UNODC’s Lale Demoz said the massive amounts involved in transnational crime pose a threat to regional sovereign states.

“Transnational organized crime, especially money flows in the region, are conservatively estimated to exceed a rather large amount of nearly $100 billion per year, accumulating each year.”

“This enormous sum is nearly double the legitimate GDP of countries such as Myanmar and many times the GDPs of other countries in the region. This is a very powerful force acting without respect as regards sovereign borders states or people,” he said.

 

Terrorism concerns

U.N. officials said the added concern lies with fears of terrorist attacks by members linked to the so-called Islamic State (IS). U.N. officials assert that conservative estimates say at least 1,000 people from the region have traveled to the Middle East as foreign fighters, some of whom of are now returning.

ASEAN leaders recently meeting in Manila committed to “addressing transnational and transboundary challenges and threats that have the potential to undermine the stability and well-being of ASEAN member states and the region.”

Jeremy Douglas, Asia Pacific UNODC regional representative, said the ASEAN meeting highlighted the need to address solutions to boost regional security.

“The leadership of the region agreed to start to prioritize securing borders of this region to counter transnational organized crime and terrorist threats, which appear to be expanding and growing in certain parts of the region,” Douglas said. “These types of crimes are for drug trafficking, human trafficking, wildlife and forest crime as well as terrorists’ movement across multiple borders.”

He said Thailand, a major transit destination for drug trafficking, has been taking steps to put in place mechanisms at land borders to combat transnational crime flows.

Common strategy needed

Across the region, port control units have been established in eight countries to monitor and secure shipping trade and reduce the risks of trafficking through key ports.

Douglas said a common regional strategy is needed to address the issues.

“The region needs to have in place across the region a common way to secure the region. At present there are different levels allowing international crime groups to take advantage of these differences,” he said.

Officials are calling on regional law enforcement, justice and agencies to work closer to deal with the economic threats posed by transnational cross border crimes.

The UNODC said border management has been identified as one of the nine key issues needed to be addressed under the ASEAN Political-Security Community.

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China Trying to Extend Belt Plan to Afghanistan to Expand Influence

China is extending its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to troubled Afghanistan, causing analysts to wonder if Beijing is trying to expand its role in the Middle East and also putting itself at the center of the international battle against terrorism.

China’s connectivity program involves extending the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is part of BRI, to Afghanistan, and then stretching the “belt” to its neighbors -Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Iran.

Reseacher Ahmad Bilal Khalil, with the Center for Strategic and Regional Studies in Kabul, who is in close touch with the Afghan government on the development plans, provided details in an interview with VOA.

The projects include two highways, two railway lines and a major hydroelectricity dam over the Kunar river. The idea is to lay a road linking Pakistan’s Peshawar to Kabul and also to Kunduz in Afghanistan and further into Central Asia. Railway lines are expected to run from Landi-Kotal in Pakistan to Afghanistan’s Jalalabad, and also from Pakistan’s Chaman to Spin Buldak in Afghanistan.

Ahmad Bilal Khalil said China needs to enter Afghanistan with economic projects to ensure the unhindered progress of its ongoing $50 billion project in Pakistan.

“If Afghanistan becomes involved in these two (highway) projects, so it will somehow affect the security situation in Afghanistan, and it will bring more Pakistani and Chinese economic interests into Afghanistan,” he said.  “If there is insecurity in Afghanistan, (it) can also affect CPEC and One Belt, One Road.”

Link to world power

China’s plans are indeed ambitious, and prompted by its foreign policy objective to be regarded seriously as a big power. It is important for China to show it can do what the U.S. has failed to achieve in the Middle East, analysts said.

“If the interest of the Belt and Road is to run through the Middle East, Afghanistan is an area where China hopes to make a difference,” David Kelly, Director, Geopolitics of Beijing-based consulting firm, China Policy said.

“It hopes that its investments in connectivity will ameliorate the tensions that are in that country, and that they can achieve something that the Americans and before them the Soviets were unable to do, that is to dampen the sectarian violence and conflict,” he said.

But these plans are easier said than done. There are clashes on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan which have killed more than 50 people in the past few days. 

Uzbekistan has opposed the plan for extending rail and road connectivity to Central Asia saying they will be utilized by terrorists for expanding their activities.

 

Terrorism dangers

Ambitions apart, there are some real-life dangers concerning terrorism that China wants to tackle by presenting itself as a benefactor in Afghanistan. Violent separatists based in China’s Xinjiang region are known to have cross-border links with the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and also with Islamic groups in Central Asia.

“If  drugs or ‘afim’ [opium] can be transported or exported from Afghanistan to central Asia, there is also a huge possibility that terrorism and extremism will also be exported to central Asia. That’s where the Chinese [have] concerns,” Khalil said.

China has invested heavily in the copper mines of Afghanistan although the results have not been encouraging because of political and infrastructural challenges. It wants to build connectivity to access the mountain country’s minerals.

“One trillion dollars worth of mineral resources are available in Afghanistan. Extending the BRI to Afghanistan will facilitate extraction of the minerals to the Chinese economy. It will also facilitate export of China’s industrial surplus to Afghanistan, ” said M.K.Bhadrakumar, author and Indian diplomat.

Analysts said China is also laying the pathway for the massive construction business that will be available once the process of reconstructing war torn Afghanistan gets underway. But Beijing’s main objective is advancing its strategic and security interests beyond Pakistan.

“Indeed, the Belt corresponds with China’s increasingly proactive security concepts, which stress common security through development and economic cooperation,” said analysts at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in a recent report.

But it is more than an uphill task.

“Furthermore, at this stage, the Belt has little potential to help thaw relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan, but there may be prospects for this over the medium to long term… the pathway to this scenario is long and fraught with obstacles,” wrote SIPRI researchers Richard Ghiasy and Jiayi Zhou.

There are some risks inherent in China’s view of the world, as well. Beijing believes it is possible to replace religious fundamentalism by offering economic benefits. But this policy has been proven wrong in the past, said Kelly of China Policy.

“We see that the problem is that the Taliban do not have a central authority in the same sense that China is used to,” he said. “So, whereas China can negotiate with the Vatican, they may find that the political structure of power in Afghanistan and with the Taliban is dispersed”.

 

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Afghan-US Forces Deal Critical Blows To Islamic State Terror Operations

Authorities in Afghanistan say that fresh airstrikes in an eastern volatile region have killed at least 34 Islamic State militants and destroyed a radio station the terrorist group was using for extremist propaganda.

The Afghan Interior Ministry said Monday the strikes targeted IS hideouts in Naziyan and Achin districts of Nangarhar province, which borders Pakistan.

“The station was broadcasting illegally across Nangarhar, spreading the group’s extremist messages and issuing threats to the people and governmental staffs,” according to a ministry statement.

Afghan and U.S. drones have previously knocked down several IS radio stations in the region but the group always manages to resume its broadcasts in several languages from another location.

IS Afghan chief killed

On Sunday, both Afghan and U.S. military officials confirmed the head of IS in Afghanistan, Sheikh Abdul Hasib, was killed in the April 27 combined attack against a cave-and-tunnel complex in Achin.

“The raid conducted by Afghan Special Security Forces [Ktah Khas], in partnership with U.S. Forces – Afghanistan, also resulted in the deaths of several other high ranking ISIS-K leaders and 35 ISIS-K fighters,” according to the U.S. military headquarters in Kabul.

The Syrian-based terrorist group refers to its extremist operations in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan as Islamic State Khorasan Province, or ISK-P, while the U.S. military often refers to it as ISIS-K.

Hasib was appointed last year following the death of his predecessor, Hafiz Saeed Khan, in a U.S. drone strike in the same Afghan province.

 

Joint campaign

Commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson praised the successful joint operation as another important step in the relentless campaign to defeat IS in the country in 2017.

 

“This is the second ISIS-K emir [leader] we have killed in nine months, along with dozens of their leaders and hundreds of their fighters, Nicholson noted.

Islamic State has not yet commented on whether its chief for Afghanistan-Pakistan operations has been eliminated.

 

Afghan and U.S. officials said Hasib masterminded the March 8 attack against Kabul National Military Hospital, which killed around 50 people, including doctors.

The slain IS chief, they said, also directed fighters to behead local elders in front of their families and ordered the kidnapping of women and girls to force them to marry his loyalists.

 

“For more than two years, ISIS-K has waged a barbaric campaign of death, torture and violence against the Afghan people, especially those in southern Nangarhar, noted General Nicholson. “Any ISIS member that comes to Afghanistan will meet the same fate,” he vowed.

U.S. and Afghan troops had been involved in an “intense” three-hour firefight that also killed two American forces, Pentagon officials said a day after the brutal April 27 raid.

“Within a few minutes of landing, our combined force came under intense fire from multiple directions and well-prepared fighting positions,” they added.

A counter-IS operation has been under way in Nangarhar since early March, and Afghan forces, with the help of U.S. counterparts, have killed or captured hundreds of fighters and liberated over half of the districts the terrorist group controlled in the province, according to the U.S. military.

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Islamic State Chief in Afghanistan Killed

The leader of Islamic State in Afghanistan has been killed in a joint raid in eastern Nangarhar province, Afghan and U.S. military officials confirmed Sunday.

 

“Sheikh Abdul Hasib, the Emir of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) in Afghanistan, was killed in a combined Afghan/U.S. raid,” the U.S. military said.  

 

Dozens of Afghan and American special forces killed Sheikh Abdul Hasib along with his 35 fighters in a combined operation against an IS cave and tunnel complex in the Achin district, the statement added.

 

Other high-ranking IS leaders also are said to have been killed in the April 27 operation.

 

Hasib was appointed last year following the death of his predecessor, Hafiz Saeed Khan – a former Pakistani Taliban commander – in a U.S. drone strike in the same Afghan province.

 

Branching out from Iraq and Syria – and fueled by a growing militancy in Central Asia – Islamic State launched its operations in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region two years ago, naming it IS’s Khorasan province (IS-K) to cover Afghanistan, Pakistan and “other nearby lands.”

 

The U.S. military often refers to the terror group as ISIS-K.

 

Commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan General John Nicholson praised the successful joint operation as another important step in the relentless campaign to defeat IS in the country in 2017.

 

“This is the second ISIS-K emir [leader] we have killed in nine months, along with dozens of their leaders and hundreds of their fighters, Nicholson noted.

Mastermind of Kabul hospital attack

Hasib was the mastermind behind a deadly attack against a military hospital in Kabul on March 8 that killed more than 30 people and injured 80 others, the Afghan Presidential Palace said in a statement.

 

“The ISIS leader directed the attack on the Sardar Mohammad Daoud Khan hospital which resulted in the death and injury of several of our fellow citizens,” the palace statement said.

 

U.S. officials said the slain IS chief also directed fighters to behead local elders in front of their families and ordered the kidnapping of women and girls to forcibly marry them off to his fighters.

 

“For more than two years, ISIS-K has waged a barbaric campaign of death, torture and violence against the Afghan people, especially those in eastern Nangarhar, noted General Nicholson.

 

”Any ISIS member that comes to Afghanistan will meet the same fate,” he vowed.

 

U.S. and Afghan troops had been involved in an “intense” 3-hour firefight that also killed two American forces, said a joint statement released after the operation.  

 

“Within a few minutes of landing, our combined force came under intense fire from multiple directions and well-prepared fighting positions. Nevertheless, our forces successfully closed on the enemy, killed several high-level ISIS leaders and upwards of 35 fighters.”

 

A counter-IS operation has been under way in Nangarhar since early March, and Afghan forces, with the help of their U.S. counterparts, have killed or captured hundreds of fighters and liberated over half of the districts the terror group controlled in the province, according to the U.S. military.

 

Last month,  the U.S. Air Force dropped “the mother of all bombs” on IS-K’s stronghold in Achin district, killing at least 95 IS militants, mostly foreign fighters.

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US Developer With Trump Connection Courting Chinese Investors

The sister of U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law is in China courting wealthy people to invest $500,000 in luxury apartment towers outside New York City as part of a program that would grant them permanent U.S. residency.

Nicole Kushner Meyer, the sister of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, one of the president’s top White House advisers, spoke Sunday to potential investors in Shanghai after making the same pitch the day before in Beijing. Meyer told more than 100 people at a Beijing hotel that the $976 million project — twin 66-story towers with nearly 1,500 apartments — “means a lot to me and my entire family.”

She mentioned that her brother formerly was chief executive of the Kushner Companies, a position he resigned as he and his wife, Trump’s oldest daughter Ivanka, moved to Washington and joined Trump’s staff.

Jared Kushner, to avoid business conflicts with his White House role, divested himself of parts of his family business as he assumed his White House role, including a connection with One Journal Square project in Jersey City, New Jersey that his sister was promoting.

There was no visible mention of Jared Kushner’s link to Trump at the Beijing event, but promotional posters bore the slogan, “Government supports it; Celebrity property developer builds it.”

Meyer was looking for investors under the U.S. EB-5 visa program, which gives wealthy foreign investors permanent American residency if they invest at least a half million dollars in a U.S. business that creates 10 jobs.

One brochure promoting the apartment towers said, “Invest $500,000 and immigrate to the United States.”

Trump has called for a sharp overhaul of U.S. immigration laws, but his focus has been aimed at thwarting illegal migrants from crossing its southern border with Mexico with construction of a wall. In a funding measure Trump signed last week to keep the U.S. government running through the end of September, there is money for additional border security, but not the wall.

Funding for the investor visa program remains intact but congressional critics have attacked it in the past as rife with fraud, with investment money supposedly targeted at improving life in impoverished communities ending up instead being used to build projects in affluent neighborhoods.

One speaker at Saturday’s event urged would-be investors to “invest early, and you will invest under the old rules,” in case U.S. lawmakers change regulations with the visas.

The EB-5 visas have proved particularly popular among wealthy Chinese, who in 2014 accounted for nearly 90 percent of the 10,000 of the visas the U.S. approved that year, although its share dropped to about 75 percent last year. Some Chinese refer to the residency authorization as a “golden visa.”

It was not immediately known whether any of the wealthy people who listened to the Kushner company pitch in Beijing decided to invest. Kushner officials are also making more presentations next weekend in the southern cities of Shenzhen and Guangzhou.

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Pakistan: Recent Border Fight Killed 50 Afghan Troops

Pakistan claims last week’s border clashes with Afghanistan left more than 50 Afghan security troops dead and scores of others wounded while five of their outposts were destroyed.

Major-General Nadeem Anjum, commander of the provincial paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC) shared the details Sunday in Quetta, the capital of the southwestern border province of Baluchistan where Thursday’s skirmishes occurred.

The Afghan government swiftly rejected the claims, saying the fighting left four people, including two security personnel, dead on its side with more than 30 wounded.

Pakistani General Anjum blamed Afghan forces for initiating the conflict by staging an “unprovoked” attack on a government team conducting a census on the Pakistani side of two divided villages at the Chaman border.

He reiterated that Afghan authorities had been alerted through military and diplomatic channels about the planned census activity. The cross-border Afghan fire killed at least 12 Pakistanis and wounded more than 40 others, including civilians and security forces, provoking Pakistan’s retaliation, Anjum noted.

Pakistan has since closed the busy Chaman border crossing with landlocked Afghanistan.

Speaking separately to reporters in Quetta, regional military commander Lt. General Aamir Riaz would not say whether Pakistan plans to reopen the crossing as it has stranded hundreds of transit and trade convoys.

“It will remain closed as long as Afghanistan does not mend its unwise way. This unwise way is not good for Afghanistan ,” the general asserted.

But Afghan provincial police chief General Abdul Raziq maintains the villages are located in a disputed part of the border between the two countries, and his forces had warned Pakistani officials against conducting census or any other activity.

Afghanistan disputes portions of its nearly 2,600-kilometer border with Pakistan, which is known as the Durand Line. The frontier was established in 1896 when Britain was ruling the Indian subcontinent.

Islamabad dismisses Kabul’s objections over the demarcation and maintains Pakistan inherited the international frontier when it gained independence from Britain in 1947.