7 foreign terrorists under watch in Sulu
TALIPAO, Sulu, Philippines — The military is closely monitoring the activities and verifying the local ties of scores of foreigners in Mindanao who are suspected of having links to the Islamic State (IS).
This followed intelligence reports that seven foreigners who were spotted in Sulu have confirmed links to IS, which is trying to strengthen its foothold in Southeast Asia after losing ground in the Middle East.
IS aided local militants in the five-month siege of Marawi City in 2017, and maintained ties with the Maguindanao-based Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, which attacked military installations in central Mindanao.
Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief, told reporters here on Saturday that the seven aliens represent a fresh influx of foreign terrorists into Mindanao, probably entering through the porous southern backdoor.
Sobejana said the seven terrorists were nationals of Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia, Morocco and Afghanistan.
According to Sobejana, around 60 other foreigners, with the same nationalities as the seven terrorists and spread mainly in the Bangsamoro region, are under close watch.
The couple who blew themselves up inside the Jolo cathedral in January were Indonesians, while a Moroccan carried out the suicide bombing in Lamitan City, Basilan, in July last year. They all have ties to IS.
The Abu Sayyaf is the main IS link in Sulu. It has an estimated strength of 300 fighters, largely locals and some foreigners, Sobejana said.
The seven terrorists, he said, could now be recruiting locals.
But Sobejana is confident it will now be difficult for IS and the Abu Sayyaf to recruit in the province.
Aside from an intensified military crackdown since July, there has been increased participation of the local populace in combating terrorism, said Brig. Gen. Corleto Vinluan, commander of Joint Task Force Sulu.
Maj. Arvin John Encinas, Westmincom spokesperson, said helping the military and police secure Sulu communities were members of Barangay Peacekeeping Action Teams, civilians whom they trained.
Talipao Mayor Nivocadnezar Tulawie said they had organized civilian forces to help soldiers and cops.
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