The Philippine National Police (PNP) is doubling efforts to tighten security for Pope Francis during his visit to the country next year in light of reports that a group of foreign jihadists has set up cells in Luzon and the Visayas.
A police source told The Manila Times on Sunday the establishment of the two cells could be a part of the plot of the Khilafa Islamiya to assassinate the pope.
The Khilafa Islamiya has been reported to have sworn allegiance to the Islamic State (IS).
The source, a police intelligence agent who is familiar with operations against local terrorist groups, said the cell in Luzon is composed of five members and headed by an Islamic cleric from Bangladesh, the source added.
He said he has scant information on the cell in the Visayas.
“This group is composed mostly of foreign ers and they are headed by a cleric from Bangladesh. The other foreigners had just arrived from Cotabato City where they trained some militants,” the source added.
In September, the Iraqi ambassador to the Vatican warned that the IS, which has set up a jihadist caliphate in Iraq and Syria, was plotting to kill the Pope during one of his trips overseas.
Acting on the warning, President Benigno Aquino 3rd said Philippine security forces have been ordered to “double the effort” to protect Francis, who will be in the country January 14 to 19 next year.
The pope is scheduled to celebrate Masses at a mall, the University of Santo Tomas campus and in Tacloban City (Leyte), events that are open to the public and where he is most vulnerable.
The source said the foreign members of the Khilafa had no problem with Immigration when they entered the country. “They don’t have any pending criminal record that’s the reason why I cannot give you their names,” he added.
Just the same, the police will continue to track the movements of the foreigners, the source said.
The group is bankrolled by a non-government organization (NGO) based in the United Kingdom involved in relief work, he added.
The agent said a similar NGO doing relief and charity work financed the group sent by al- Qaeda to the Philippines in 1995 to assassinate Pope John Paul II.
The same NGO continues to exist, but had assumed a different name, the source said.
No local militants will take part in the papal assassination plot but the agen earlier said Khair Mundos, a key Abu Sayyaf leader who had been arrested, had checked out possible routes the pope will take during his visit.
“No local militants will be involved in carrying out the plot against the pope. It will be most likely to be carried out by imported ones… foreign jihadists,” the source said.
In an earlier interview, the Philippine National Police (PNP) spokesman, Chief Supt. Wilben Mayor, said they have not monitored any brewing plot against Francis.
Mayor added that the PNP is in the thick of preparations for the papal visit.
”This [security preparation]will be a whole government approach… the PNP will be in charge of the security aspect of the visit,” he said.
A police task group, “Papal Visit 2015,” will oversee the security preparation.
Heading the group will be Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, the PNP deputy chief for operation and former chief of the National Capital Regional Police Office.