Palace confident Marawi City won’t turn into ISIS hub

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Malacañang sought to allay fears that Marawi City was becoming a new hub for Islamist fighters in Southeast Asia.

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Palace spokesman Ernesto Abella issued the statement after US Senator Joni Ernst expressed alarm over the growing presence of ISIS fighters in Mindanao.

(ISIS refers to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.)

“It’s unlikely for Marawi to become a new hub for IS fighters,” Abella told reporters during a press conference on Tuesday.

“The Philippine military has already preempted the Maute group from establishing a wilayah or province in Marawi,” he added.

A report quoted Senator Ernst saying that the US government wanted a bigger role in the Philippine military’s operations in Marawi City as it feared that the area was becoming a new ISIS hub in the region.

“I don’t know that ISIS are directing operations there but they are certainly trying to get fighters into that region,” Ernst was quoted as saying. “We need to address the situation. It should not get out of control.”

But Abella said the US should only provide “technical assistance,” noting that the law prohibits foreign troops from participating directly in combat operations.

“The role of the US in relation to IS is to provide technical assistance as prescribed by the Constitution and we will abide by that,” he said.

The Maute terrorists wrought havoc in Marawi City on May 23, prompting President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial rule in Mindanao.

As of Monday night, the fatalities included 26 civilians, 65 government troops, and 258 terrorists.

CATHERINE S. VALENTE

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