Analyst: Western media mistaken about Marawi ‘foreign’ fighters

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PETALING JAYA: Western media and experts have wrongly described a majority of foreign militants in the battle of Marawi, who were actually Malaysians and Indonesians, as westerners and Arabs, an analyst has said.

Pawel Wójcik, a Polish expert focusing on terrorism in Southeast Asia and other regions, said the mistakes had been made by media in the English, French and other European languages.

According to him, analysts and scholars discussed the flow of foreign fighters with western media and referred to ”many foreign fighters” in the southern Philippine city as coming from western and Arab countries as well Chechnya.

“I am amazed how easily people reported wrongly the news about the flow of foreign IS fighters,” Wójcik told FMT.

“It’s been reported on news sites and social media that a majority of 80 foreign fighters in Marawi city came from western and Arab countries as well as Chechnya.

“Yes, it’s true that there were about 80 foreign fighters in the city. But they should stop counting them as mainly western citizens.

“Most of the 80 consisted of Malaysians and Indonesians. The western press clearly lacks this distinction when reporting about foreign fighters in southern Philippines.”

Apart from Malaysia and Indonesia, foreign fighters from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Chechnya and Singapore, were reported to have been fighting for pro-IS groups in Marawi.

Chinese Uighurs and Africans were also reported to have been possibly involved in the five-month war that started on May 23.

Both Philippine and Malaysian authorities have named several Malaysian militants fighting troops in Marawi but more Malaysians are believed to have been involved.

The Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC) earlier told FMT it believed more than 30 Malaysian fighters were in Marawi, accounting for almost half the total figure of foreign terrorists.

TRAC said this was based on chatter on IS-related communication channels.

According to Pawel, the misconception among Western media could have been partly caused by propaganda from the militant groups, reported by local media.

“The were also reports about many Caucasians in a 100-strong group in Cotabato province in southern Philippines in November,” said Pavel.

“These are fake news, with reports coming from locals who heard some gossip from militants belonging to Abu Turaifi that many Europeans were on their way.”

Abu Turaifi is the alias of Esmail Abdulmalik, leader of the pro-IS Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters group, some of whose members were also reported to have fought in Marawi.

According to Wójcik, the same misunderstanding occurred among western media when reporting about IS foreign fighters in Afghanistan.

“In Jowzjan province, Afghanistan, what could have happened was the simple arrival of a few individuals with French passports who had been in Nangarhar province since 2015.

“There was no big wave or flow of European fighters. Most foreign fighters here are from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

“They are not foreign in the ‘western’ meaning.”

A survey of discussions on Twitter on the matter found that observers of Southeast Asian terrorism issues agreed most of the foreign fighters in Marawi had come from Malaysia and Indonesia.

A Twitter user going by the handle Bilad Al Fransa said the foreigners in Marawi were mostly “regional foreign fighters”.

Another user, Thor, said the western press wanted people to think of white people when they said “foreigners”.

A journalist said a distinction should be made between “foreign fighters” and “foreign-looking fighters” in the case of Marawi.

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