WORRIED over reports that a member of the Jemaah Islamiyah who is supporting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is still in the country and could be luring local Muslims to join the extremist group, Malacañang on Sunday said the police and military should verify if the terrorist is indeed in Mindanao and monitor his activities.
Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. on Sunday said the Philippine National Police (PNP) and Armed Forces of the Philippines should track down the alleged ISIS recruiter, a Malaysian, to ensure the people’s safety.
On Saturday, a source from the intelligence service of the PNP identified the Malaysian as Amin Baco, who also goes by the alias Abu Jihad. The source also gave The Manila Times a photo of the alleged JI member. In the photograph, Baco is standing in front of a black flag holding a pistol on his right hand and a dagger on his left.
Coloma said the Palace will ask the AFP and the PNP to verify reports about the presence of Baco in the South.
“We need to verify. In any case, our security agencies are tasked with closely monitoring such activities and to ensure citizens’ safety,” Coloma said in a text message to The Manila Times.
The police intelligence source who asked not to be named said Baco has been in the country for a long time and may have also been involved in several bombing attacks in Basilan and Sulu provinces in Mindanao.
Like the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), Baco, who is associated with the Khilafa Islamiyah Movement, has pledged allegiance to the ISIS. His photo was extracted from a mobile phone of one of the ASG members killed during a recent battle with government security forces in Sulu.
Baco is believed to be one of the five JI members who had been hiding in Sulu under the protection of the ASG that last week threatened to behead one of two Germans they are holding captive.
The two are Stefan Victor Okonek, 70, and Herike Diesen, 55.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte earlier said the government is working closely with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and other groups in Mindanao to keep ISIS people at bay.
“There are many Muslims who are against these elements in Mindanao. They are cooperating with the government to ensure that this doesn’t spread,” she told reporters.
Palace spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the government has been addressing poverty in Mindanao to prevent people there from joining extremist groups such as the ISIS.
“The poverty alleviation interventions continue . . But, recruiting [by]ISIS also takes another form. There’s the religious undertone. And so it’s not only about [the situation of the prople of Mindanao], it’s also about, perhaps, an extreme zealousness on the beliefs of ISIS, which they adhere to,” Lacierda added.
“We’re doing all these proactive measures and precisely why we’re bringing in the importance of the Bangsamoro Basic Law. Remember, the idea of bringing in aid and coming out with the Bangsamoro Basic Law is some form of affirmative action. This area [Mindanao] has been neglected for so long. We need to step up, we need to provide assistance to this area and that’s why it’s a kind of affirmative action where we bring them up to the level of the other brothers and sisters in other parts of the country,” he said.
Local officials in Maguindanao province, also in Mindanao, are also worried over reports that young Muslim Filipinos have been lured into joining ISIS.
A mayor in the province of Basilan, Joel Maturan, earlier confirmed that some young people joined the ISIS in exchange for money and weapons.
“If this [report]is true, then our authorities must implement more stringent measures to put a stop to this practice [ideology]of using our youth in senseless activities,” Maguindanao 2nd District Assemblyman Khadaffy “Toy” Mangudadatu said over the weekend.
“Our children must stay in school, not to fight for causes beyond their understanding,” Mangudadatu added
In Marawi City, Lanao del Sur, another component area of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, photos seized by officials on September 19 showed a group of civilians with their children participating doing bai-ah or pledge of allegiance to the ISIS’s caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Governors of Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur earlier urged Muslims not to join extremist groups.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) also vowed to prevent the spread of the contagious “virus” that the ISIS is spreading.
ISIS was branded by international communities as terrorist for its acts of barbarism like beheadings, suicide bombings and mass killings.
Meanwhile, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) described as “ridiculous” reports that 100 Filipinos trained in Iran to fight alongside the anti-government group in Syria and to engage in extremist activities, according to the Iranian Embassy in Manila.
In an interview last week, Iranian Ambassador to Manila Ali Asghar Mohammadi said his office submitted a note verbale to the department, clarifying a leaked report that cited a memorandum from the Foreign Affairs agency to President Benigno Aquino 3rd.
He added that during his embassy’s discussion with the DFA-Office of the Undersecretary for Middle East and African Affairs, the department rejected the reports and said they were “ridiculous.”
The department is investigating how it was leaked to the media, the envoy said.
The envoy also denied the memorandum that said Iran has been the training ground for some 100 Filipinos recruited by the jihadist movement in Syria.
“We clearly and categorically deny reports like that. [They are] totally false. It was wrong information. That is impossible,” he said.
“We believe something wrong happened in the report. Maybe the name of the country was mistakenly reported,” Mohammadi added.
The note verbale was submitted last week amid reports that a confidential DFA memorandum was cited in a report from Camp Crame, naming Iran as a destination for Filipinos who want to join the extremist movement in Syria.
The leaked two-page memorandum dated March 20, 2014 reported the recruitment of Filipinos to the President.
It said “100 Filipinos who traveled to Iran had undergone military training and were deployed to Syria” to join other foreign fighters.
The Iranain envoy is asking the DFA to correct the information, “so that our public image will be changed.”
“They [DFA] know better than us that this is not true. These are all accusations. They should correct . . . they should help us get out from this situation,” the ambassador told reporters.