MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has warned of a fresh terror threat against his country.
“Maybe it’s good to anticipate that there’s going to be (a terror attack) in the coming days,” Duterte said in a speech this week, amid reports that an increasing number of foreign fighters are now in the Philippines.
“They’d like to blow up (places where) people converge: In airports, seaports, and parks, because of what happened in the Mindanao provinces,” Duterte added, referring to the defeat of Daesh-backed militants who laid siege to Marawi City in Mindanao for five months last year.
“As I have said, the threat remains,” the president continued, adding: “My advice to our security forces, the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and PNP (Philippine National Police), in this matter of security against terrorism, is that no quarter should be asked, and no quarter given.”
Earlier, Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana told the country’s elite special forces to prepare for a possible repeat of the Marawi siege in another city.
Lorenzana admitted authorities are looking into the reported entry of a number of foreign terrorists into the southern Philippines.
Mohaquer Iqbal, chief negotiator of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), had previously warned that the defeat of the Maute group in Marawi City does not mean the defeat of Daesh-oriented groups in Mindanao.
“Expect that they will surface once again,” he said.
Talking to Arab News, Iqbal reiterated his statement on the increasing number of foreign fighters in the southern Philippines.
“What has been validated by our side is that there is a continuous inflow of foreign elements that are suspected to be Daesh-connected individuals,” Iqbal said.
The army recently reported they have identified 48 foreign terrorists currently in the Philippines and told the Supreme Court on Wednesday that a number of terrorists had entered the southern Philippines posing as businessmen or tourists.
Iqbal confirmed that MILF’s intelligence backs up the army’s figures, saying, “We have around 90 percent validated (the presence of foreign terrorists). We have reliable reports to that effect.”
Some of those foreign terrorists arrived in the country after the Marawi siege ended in October, he said. Many arrived via the island provinces of Sulu and Basilan, and a number of them are “Caucasian-looking.”
Early this week, an article released by the Asian think tank Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) said that the deaths of Filipino militant leaders Isnilon Hapilon — the Daesh-designated emir in Southeast Asia — and Omarkhayam Maute, “have not fundamentally reduced or removed the jihadi threat in the region.”
The article said that there are still four “key leaders” of Southeast Asian extremists: Amin Baco, Bahrumsyah, Abu Turaifie and Bahrun Naim.”
Baco, a Malaysian born in Sabah who built his jihadi credentials fighting in Basilan and Sulu, was reported to have been killed during the Marawi siege. But, on Wednesday, Joint Task Force Sulu commander Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said the military was trying to verify information that, although wounded, Baco had managed to escape the Marawi siege and is now in Sulu with the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).
Iqbal said he has no information about Baco’s whereabouts, but that Toraife — commander of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) — has been regularly moving his location because of a series of military operations against his group.
“Recently he (Toraife) was in North Cotabato,” Iqbal claimed. “But he seems to have transferred from there already. They seem to be on the move constantly.”
However, Iqbal explained that Toraife and his group “are not a major threat at this point in time” as they lack the capacity to launch a major attack similar to the Maute Group’s siege of Marawi.