THE Armed Forces of the Philippines is investigating if two Arabs monitored in Lanao del Sur province, the stronghold of the terrorist Maute Group, are members of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria or ISIS, Gen. Eduardo Año, AFP chief of staff, disclosed on Tuesday.
“We have monitored one or two Arabs in the area but we cannot really confirm if they are really ISIS personalities,” he said.
Año noted that in the past, there were Arabs who were going to Lanao del Sur on the pretext of establishing a foundation or for religious teachings.
“So it’s early to say. But of course it’s part of the intelligence tasking to look for foreigners who are inclined to support or to be affiliated with local terror groups including the group of Hapilon,” said the AFP chief, referring to Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) leader Isnilon Hapilon.
It was reported earlier that Hapilon and some of his men arrived in Lanao del Sur and joined forces with the Maute Group in an apparent attempt to establish an ISIS cell in the region.
At least 37 terrorists were killed in a series of clashes in the province that started over the weekend when government forces launched massive offensives against the Maute Group.
Among those reportedly killed were three Indonesians and a Malaysian, said to be members of the Asian terror group Jema’ah Islamiyah (JI).
“So far, we don’t have their names yet but once we identify them, we will disclose them. These are JI and now they are calling themselves as ISIS- inspired,” Año said.
The military said continuous focused military operations are in accordance with President Rodrigo Duterte’s directive to decimate all local terrorists in Mindanao in southern Philippines not later than July 31.
More than 500 families in three towns of Lanao del Sur were dislocated from their homes as result of the recent firefights.
According to the AFP chief, Indonesian and Malaysian terrorists have been in the province for quite some time now.
“They are still part of the JI before and they changed the group’s name when JI almost became non-existent. And then made other affiliations.This was where the Maute family took over these remnants of the JI and called themselves the Maute Group and aligned with Hapilon in the hope that they will be recognized as one wilayat, or Daesh or ISIS province,” he explained.
Meanwhile, Año said there is no need to conduct a loyalty check on AFP officials as a result of the discovery that a ranking official of the Philippine National Police (PNP) was affiliated with the Abu Sayyaf.
“There is an ongoing system [at the AFP]that when you are assigned to sensitive positions or units, you have to undergo partial background investigation and full background investigation depending on the positions you are holding. This is continuing. Maybe, the PNP committed lapses in that area. But there is an existing system for that so we don’t have to do loyalty check,” he pointed out.
Security forces recently arrested Supt. Maria Christina Nobleza in the company of a suspected terrorist while allegedly trying to rescue remaining Abu Sayyaf bandits in Bohol.
Authorities found out later that Nobleza, the deputy regional director of the Davao Regional Police Office’s Crime Laboratory, is the girlfriend of suspected bomb expert Reenor Lou Dungon alias Kudre, a relative of slain ASG founder Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani.