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Defense department, Armed Forces on alert as deeper probe under way



(Photo from Philippine Star)


CAMP AGUINALDO, Quezon City -- The Department of National Defense (DND) has received reports that there are foreign terrorists still operating in Mindanao despite the defeat by the military of the Islamist-inspired Maute Group in the five-month war in Marawi City.


Some of the foreign fighters or jihadists were reported to be helping the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in the ongoing campaign in Maguindanao and North Cotabato.


To prevent a repeat of a Marawi City-like siege, the military in Maguindanao and North Cotabato has started hunting down the alleged foreign terrorists sighted with local armed men in the mountainous borders of the two provinces and the marshland of Maguindanao, according to Colonel Gerry Besana, chief of the 6th Infantry Division-Civil Military Operations (CMO).


Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana made the revelation during the New Year's Call in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City as the Armed Forces of the Philippines has been alerted and tasked to investigate and go after the terrorists.


"Yun ang hinahanap namin ngayon. We are trying to confirm reports that there are foreign terrorists inside the country especially in Mindanao," Lorenzana added.


The reports, which came from Malaysia and Indonesia, claimed an increase of foreign terrorists coming from the Philippines' backdoor.


"We are trying to verify that,” he said, but added tht “up to now wala pa kaming nako-confirm."


And when asked on the possible ISIS presence in the south, Lorenzana said efforts were under way to check on this.


"It is ongoing. We are intensifying our monitoring there in South and as of now we cannot confirm the presence of foreign terrorists but there are homegrown terrorists there in the South we are sure of that," Lorenzana added. 


Meanwhile, authorities are closely monitoring several houses in Iligan City that could be linked to the Islamic State-inspired Maute terror group.


Iligan City Mayor Celso Regencia disclosed that 12 residential properties are titled under Maute names and 26 others are allegedly owned by former Marawi City Mayor Fahad Salic.


Salic, who was arrested in June 2017, had been charged for conspiring with the terror group engaged in an armed rebellion against the government, ABS-CBN reported.


Senior Supt. Leony Roy Ga, director of Iligan City Police Office, said many of the houses are already abandoned but they are still keeping a close watch.


While the Armed Forces  is doing everything in its authority to defeat terrorism, the citizenry also needs to play a role by reporting the presence of suspicious looking persons in their neighbourhood, according to AFP spokesperson Col. Edgard Arevalo when sought for comment on the purported entry of foreign terrorists in the country.


"We cannot discount the possibility of foreign fighters surreptitiously able to enter the country given our vast and porous borders," he added.


And while the military is exerting all efforts to guard possible entry points, Arevalo said they needed the vigilance, cooperation, and active participation of the citizenry in the communities who could monitor and report arrival of new faces in the neighborhood.


Such assistance was of great value together with the relevant domestic and international agencies, Arevalo pointed out.


He was referring to the conventions and agreements recently signed by the Philippines such as the trilateral joint patrol agreements with Malaysia and Indonesia which aimed to defeat piracy and terrorism in areas of common concern.


The foreign terrorists were reported to be  helping the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in the ongoing campaign in Maguindanao and North Cotabato and Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla, AFP spokesperson, said the AFP is looking into the reports.


"Oo, merong binitawang salita yun mga taga 6th Infantry Division (Lt. Col. Gerry Bersana of the 6th Civil-Military Operations). Positive, may mga nakita dun. Pero hindi pa ma-ascertain kung sino-sino yung mga yun (Yes, the 6th Infantry Division mentioned something about that. Positive, they saw something there. But they cannot ascertain yet whom they have seen)," he added.


These individuals are foreign looking, the AFP spokesperson admitted, but said validation is needed to determine whether these foreign fighters are among those reported present in the five-month battle in Marawi City.


"Foreign-looking but we need to validate and ascertain. Hindi namin sure (if galing Marawi) pero malamang iba ‘to (We are not sure if they were from Marawi but it seems these are from a different place)," he added.


Padilla declined to comment on whether the sighted foreign terrorists are Caucasian-looking.


"They may be any nationality that’s why there’s a need to check further. Tuloy-tuloy pa rin ang operations against BIFF, nangunguna diyan ay 6th Infantry Division sa ilalim ni Maj. Gen. Arnel Dela Vega (Operations against BIFF are ongoing. It is spearheaded by the 6th Infantry Division under Maj. Gen. Arnel Dela Vega)," he added.


This developed as the Philippine National Police (PNP) arrested two suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) at a shopping mall in Isabela City in Basilan province.


Chief Supt. Billy Beltran, Police Regional Office-9 (PRO-9) director, identified the arrested suspects as Emran Ismael, who carries the aliases of Bantong Basintin and Bantong Basiri; and, Bryan Mohammad alias Pojong Attiun.


Beltran said they were arrested at around 9:15 p.m. last Friday at a shopping mall on La Purisima Street, Barangay Zone III.


He said the suspects have standing warrants of arrest for the crime of seven-count kidnapping and serious illegal detention penalized under Article 267 of the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines.


He said the court of Isabela City, Basilan did not recommend bail for the temporarily release of the suspects.


He said the suspects were involved in the kidnapping of seven workers of the Golden Harvest Plantation in Barangay Tairan, Lantawan, Basilan, on June 11, 2001.


The Abu Sayyaf bandits executed by beheading some of the hostages while the others have either escaped or rescued by pursuing military troops.


Beltran said the suspects were positively identified by two witnesses who are under the witness protection and security benefit program of the Department of Justice (DOJ). 

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