MANILA, Philippines – Seven “foreign terrorists” are at large in Sulu, Maguindanao, and Basilan, according to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom).
WestMinCom chief Lieutenant General Cirilito Sobejana said the 7 foreigners are “embedded” with local terror groups with links to the international terror group, the Islamic State (ISIS): the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). Another 42 people are “watchlisted and being monitored” for possible terror links.
Sobejana said the foreign suspects are grooming the groups’ members to become bombers, or even suicide bombers, and training them in “other terroristic actions.”
The military commander declined to reveal the suspects’ nationalities. As for the 42 people on the watchlist, Sobejana said, “Hindi pa natin na-confirm talaga. Marami pa tayong (We have yet to fully confirm it. We have more) criteria in validating for them to be considered as foreign terrorists.”
“It’s more an effort by our intelligence unit. We cannot divulge,” he added.
Although the suspects’ precise terror links have yet to be ascertained, Sobejana said it is known that factions within the ASG and BIFF have pledged allegiance to ISIS.
“Pagka (When it is) foreign terrorists naman, these are more of ISIS-inclined,” he added.
Faced with setbacks in the Middle East, ISIS has shifted its focus to Southeast Asia and called on its followers there to carve out a “caliphate” locally.
On July 10, the AFP and the Philippine National Police (PNP) confirmed that the June 28 attack on an army camp in Indanan, Sulu, was carried out by two suicide bombers, one of them Filipino.
It was the first case of a suicide bombing by a Filipino in the Philippines, the AFP and PNP said, marking a major escalation in terror tactics by local extremists.
JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.