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Philippines on alert for attack by pro-Daesh militants

Philippine security forces are keeping a close watch on all major cities, including Manila, amid reports that militants from a pro-Daesh alliance behind last year’s Marawi siege are planning another attack. (File Photo: AFP)
MANILA: Philippine security forces are keeping a close watch on all major cities, including Manila, amid reports that militants from a pro-Daesh alliance behind last year’s Marawi siege are planning another attack, a military spokesman said on Tuesday.
The alert comes as the government acknowledges that although the military suppressed the rebellion by Daesh-inspired Maute militants and liberated Marawi City after nearly five months of fighting last year, the threat of insurgency remains.
In a press briefing, Brig. Gen. Bienvenido Datuin, spokesman for the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said that there was still a possibility of increased terrorist activity on Mindanao island in the southern Philippines.
He said that all reports of activities of militant groups in the country were being taken very seriously.
“We have complete and continuous monitoring by the Coast Guard, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and the Philippine National Police. And of course, we have the trilateral and bilateral conventions and protocols and agreements with other countries, so we are doing continuous aerial and coastal monitoring,” Datuin said.
The army statement came in the wake of reports that remnants of the Maute group who escaped before the military retook Marawi City last October are “regrouping, retraining and recruiting for another attack.”
Lt. Gen. Rolando Bautista, the Philippines Army chief, earlier said that militants who had escaped the battle in Marawi with huge sums of cash looted from homes were using the funds to recruit new members and re-arm, and to possibly stage similar attacks.
“The recruitment continues, meaning when there is recruitment there is still a possibility that they will besiege another city, not necessarily Marawi City. That is a big possibility,” he told reporters.
On Monday, Maj. Ronald Suscano, spokesman for the Army’s 1st Infantry Division, said the Maute remnants broke into smaller groups, with some slipping into the capital Manila to carry out bombings.
During the weekend, joint military and police teams arrested Abdul Nasser Lomondot, a sub-leader of the Maute Group in Manila. Lomondot was reportedly involved in violent activities perpetrated by the militant group, including in the planning of Marawi siege. He was arrested with fellow Maute member Rizasalam Lomondot.
In February, authorities also arrested Fehmi Lassoued, alias John Rasheed Lassoned, an Egyptian who is said to be a high-ranking member of Daesh. Lassoued was arrested after police and military intelligence teams raided an apartment in Manila.
“Anything is possible,” said Datuin, adding that the government security forces were closely monitoring all city and urban areas to thwart militant attacks, especially during the Holy Week. “We have a standing order to prevent terroristic acts from happening in these critical days,” he said.
The US last week described the Maute Group and the Islamic State in the Philippines (ISP) as globally designated terrorist organizations.
Ambassador Nathan Sales, the State Department’s counterterrorism coordinator, said the US was very concerned about Daesh’s presence in Southeast Asia, the most visible example of which was the Daesh network in the Philippines that took control of Marawi. He said that the Maute Group and the ISP are among the most ambitious affiliates of the Daesh network.
“(Daesh) fighters, ideologues, recruiters, are still active. Some are active in the Philippines; some are active in other countries in the region. And so the United States and the State Department in particular are looking very closely at what we can do,” he said.
Arsenio Andolong, spokesperson for the Philippines Department of National Defense, told Arab News: “Daesh-Maute needs funds and resources to sustain their operations. With the affirmation of their status as a terrorist organization by the US government, the flow of money from their supporters to their cells will be adversely affected, and their network as well as movement of their members will be monitored more closely. The world suddenly just became even smaller for them.”