UNITED STATES OFFICIALS are closely monitoring reports that Islamic fundamentalists from the Middle East with possible ties to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have established links with local Muslim militants, according to Ambassador Philip Goldberg.
ISIS is the extremist group that has overrun large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq and that, together with other insurgent factions, according to a recent United Nations report, has committed war crimes, “including murder, extortion, execution without due process, torture, hostage-taking” and violations of international law such as recruiting children and rape.
The ambassador admitted that they are concerned over such reports, thus they have to “watch very closely.”
He, however, said reports that Filipino fighters are fighting side by side with Syrians are yet to be verified.
“I cannot verify if there are any activities of that sort . . . [But] it’s something that concerns us. We have seen and continue to see foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq . . . very disturbing, troubling,” the US envoy said during a recent roundtable with editors, columnists and reporters of The Manila Times.
Former President Fidel Ramos earlier claimed to have received intelligence information that Filipino Muslims have been recruited to fight in Syria where militants seek a separate caliphate.
But Goldberg said he would not “jump into conclusion” with regard to Ramos’ claims but maintained that such concerns are “understandable” and “not unprecedented.”
“It’s [an]understandable concern. Not unprecedented. We’ve seen international groups here in the past . . . Part of 9/11 plot was originally planned here,” said the US official, alluding to the September 11, 2001 attacks by al-Qaeda terrorists who launched suicide missions that caused the collapse of the World Trade Center in New York.
But Goldberg was optimistic that any more threat from terrorists or Islamic militants can be dealt with by the Philippine military, noting that the government has effectively “degraded” once formidable groups such as the Abu Sayyaf Group and Jemaah Islamiyah.
“Good news is that the Philippines has made tremendous strides in actions against these transnational groups. We have been very pleased to assist in that effort,” the ambassador also noted.
“Like JI, like ASG which are now a little bit somewhat more of being shadowy group[s],” he said.
Goldberg observed that while groups such as the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) under Ameril Umbra Kato may seem to have “aspirational affiliations and also views about supporting transnational jihadist movements,” majority of the people in Mindanao do not like the idea of linking up and backing up such movements.
“There are traditional Moro groups [that are against that idea]. They are much larger group(s) (than the BIFF) in Mindanao,” he pointed out.