THE government is validating reports that 89 “suspected foreign terrorist fighters” are already in Mindanao, Malacañang said on Saturday.
Palace spokesman Ernesto Abella issued the statement after the Philippine National Police received an intelligence report that dozens of foreign terror suspects were in different areas in Mindanao, including Marawi City where government troops are locked in battle with Islamic State-linked Maute terrorists.
“Authorities are still validating the report that 89 suspected foreign fighters are in Mindanao. They might have entered the Philippines via the backdoor, where the point of entry is Mindanao via Indonesia or Malaysia,” Abella said in a statement.
According to the intelligence report obtained by Japan-based Kyodo News agency, 28 Indonesians, 26 Pakistanis, 21 Malaysians, four Arabs, three Bangladeshis, one Indian-Singaporean, and one Singaporean were among the foreign terrorists. The nationalities of five others were unknown.
The report said the figures were also cited by the Philippine government during a trilateral meeting on Thursday, June 22, with foreign ministers and security officials of Malaysia and Indonesia.
Abella also said the military was validating an intelligence report that Malaysian Mahmud bin Ahmad, who helped lead and finance the Marawi siege, was killed.
A Malaysian official on Friday denied that Mahmud had been killed.
“With regard to Mahmud, many have asked whether he has been killed in a clash in Marawi, the Philippines. I just got the information that the news about him being killed was not true. This means that he is still alive, and we believe he is still together with terrorists defending Marawi City,” Malaysian police inspector general Khalid Abu Bakar was quoted as saying in a news conference in Malaysia.
Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, head of the military’s Western Mindanao Command, said troops on Friday recovered two decomposing corpses that bore features of people from the Middle East.
Eight other militants, including those from Chechnya, Indonesia and Malaysia, had been killed earlier in the fighting, officials have said.
Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines on June 19 launched joint patrols on their maritime borders to block the movement of the militants.
On Thursday, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia agreed to boost cooperation to address the threats of terrorism and extremism.
The Palace official said the trilateral dialogue was aimed at forming a “collective” effort to quell terror threats in the three countries.
“This is the purpose why we are making a collective effort against terrorism and violent extremism through a trilateral cooperation with Indonesia and Malaysia,” Abella said.
“We have agreed to work together to jointly develop and implement counter-terrorism measures and strategies to prevent future terrorists attacks in the region,” he added.
Australia said Friday it would send two high-tech spy planes to help Filipino troops fight terrorists in Marawi, joining the US which has also provided similar help.
State forces have been engaged in a month-long clash with the IS-linked Maute group in Marawi. As of Friday, 289 terrorists have been killed in the fighting in the city, as well as 69 government troops and 26 civilians.
Last week, eight people including six terrorists were killed, while 10 others were injured, after gunmen belonging to the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) attacked an army outpost and then retreated to a public school.
Officials of the army’s 6th Infantry Division based in Camp Siongco, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao are not ignoring the threats by the BIFF to attack Davao City in retaliation for the recent killings of 13 BIFF members by government troops.
The threats were written on blackboards inside the classrooms and in the village hall of Malagakit in Pigkawayan, North Cotabato, where some 300 BIFF bandits holed up for about nine hours last Wednesday.
Capt. Arvin Encinas, spokesman of the 6th Infantry Division, said that “while we doubt the capability of the BIFF to proceed to areas far from central Mindanao to sow terror, our units are not taking chances or ignoring such threats.”
The BIFF gunmen who raided and looted Malagakit village in Pigkawayan last Wednesday also destroyed portraits of President Rodrigo Duterte inside classrooms and the village hall.
Residents said three bandits were responsible for the written threats. “Kahit saan humingi ng tulong si Duterte hindi niya kami kayang ubusin [Even if Duterte seeks help, he won’t finish us],” read a warning written on the blackboard in the office of Salvador Almonia, Jr., chairman of Malagakit village.
The BIFF bandits that occupied Malagakit last Wednesday were said to have robbed houses and stores, and carted away animals owned by farmers. Their barns were emptied of rice.
Encinas clarified that the BIFF attack was not related to the hostilities in Marawi City, but was meant to avenge the deaths of more than a dozen senior BIFF members in a series of encounters with army units in Maguindanao in the past seven weeks.
Local officials said eight BIFF bandits were killed while five others were wounded in the firefight with soldiers that flushed them out of Malagakit last week.
A local militiaman belonging to the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Units (Cafgu), identified as Abraham Kutay, was killed while two other Cafgus were wounded during the encounter of the military with the BIFF rebels.
WITH MOH SAADUDDIN, JULMUNIR I. JANNARAL AND AFP