• UK court convicts Briton for plotting to join Abu Sayyaf

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    LONDON: A British supermarket worker was convicted Thursday (Friday in Manila) of preparing to fight with the Abu Sayyaf terrorist and kidnapping group in Mindanao.

    Ryan Counsell, 28, was found guilty of preparing for acts of terrorism, notably having a bomb-making manual and buying various military-style clothes and equipment.

    Counsell had booked to fly on July 13 last year to the southern Philippine port of Zamboanga, the closest city to Basilan island, a stronghold of Abu Sayyaf, which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.

    Abu Sayyaf is listed as a banned terrorist group in Britain, the jury at Woolwich Crown Court in southeast London heard.

    He had bought military equipment to “engage in combat or support an extremist group,” the court was told.

    Jurors heard how Counsell had spent almost £900 ($1,130; 1,050 euros) on “heavy-duty, military-style boots, combat trousers, camouflage clothing, knee and elbow pads, a monocular scope, rifle magazine pouches and a cheek pad to be attached to the stock of a rifle.”

    He had a bomb-making manual and documents providing “practical advice for someone wanting to travel to Syria to join Islamic State.”

    Counsell, from Nottingham in central England, had a copy of the Al-Qaeda terror group’s online magazine Inspire, which contained an article titled “Make a bomb in the kitchen of your Mom.”

    The material demonstrated that Counsell had a “profound and enduring interest in extremist Islam, jihad and the propaganda of Islamic State and similar groups,” a lawyer for the state Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) told the court.

    Counsell claimed his planned trip to Zamboanga was for charitable relief work in an aid camp.

    The married father of one said he watched terrorist videos because he wanted to learn more about propaganda.

    “Ryan Counsell meticulously planned his attempt to join a terrorist organization which is responsible for atrocities across the Philippines,” Sue Hemming, head of the CPS counter-terror division, said after the verdict.

    “He attempted to conceal his plan but prosecutors were able to successfully demonstrate his true intent to the jury.”

    Counsell will be sentenced on March 3.

    The government has said militant groups are trying to establish an Islamic State-backed caliphate in Southeast Asia that would include the Philippines’ southern island of Mindanao.

    President Rodrigo Duterte said on Tuesday he had asked China to send sea patrols to help stop Islamic militants abducting sailors and attacking vessels off the southern Philippines.

    Duterte said he would like Beijing to dispatch a fleet like it did in 2009 when it sent a naval convoy to the Gulf of Aden to protect Chinese ships from Somali pirates.

    Abu Sayyaf, one of the groups seeking to set up a caliphate, began kidnapping sailors in waters between Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines last year, taking several dozen hostages and attacking cargo ships.

    Indonesia has warned the region could become the “next Somalia” and the three later pledged coordinated patrols.

    The International Maritime Bureau said this month the number of maritime kidnappings hit a 10-year high in 2016, with waters off the southern Philippines becoming increasingly dangerous.

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