MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Law enforcement authorities will be on “full alert” on Monday, January 9, following intelligence reports that terror groups may target the Black Nazarene procession in Manila.
“The threat, as you know, is the Maute Group and maybe the Abu Sayyaf, but mainly the Maute Group. They are connected with ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria),” said Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno on Thursday, January 5, during a Palace news briefing.
“The threat here, especially with a big event like this in Manila, we are receiving intelligence reports that they are also here,” said Sueno, referring to the Maute Group.
The threat also applies to other parts of the Philippines where commemoration events for the Black Nazarene take place, for instance, in Cagayan de Oro.
“Especially for areas with plenty of people, we advise them to be very careful in Cagayan de Oro. Well, our policemen and military are also on red alert there, full alert,” said Sueno.
The possible threat to the Black Nazarene procession, a religious event held every January 9 and typically attended by over a million people, comes after the killing by government forces of a pro-ISIS group leader.
Mohammad Jaafar Maguid, leader of Ansar Khalifa Philippines, was killed on Thursday during an operation by the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) and police.
Days before, there was an attack on a North Cotabato jail and a series of bombings in Leyte and Cotabato.
So far, no terror group has claimed the attacks.
The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), military, and police will discuss security measures for the Black Nazarene during a joint command conference on Friday, January 6, said Sueno.
Asked if the government will advise devotees not to attend the event due to the threat, Sueno said devotees are unlikely to listen to any official advice.
“That is there faith. If they go there, they firmly believe, strongly believe that God will protect them. How do you discourage the faith of a person that they will be safe going there?” said Sueno.
But the government may talk to church leaders about the procession if there is a “strong” threat.
“The government can advise and talk to our church leaders if the threat is very strong,” said the interior secretary.
Sueno gave assurances security forces have “doubled, tripled” their preparation for any threat and that the police are on “full alert.” – Rappler.com