Filipino jihadists killed in Syria - reports

MANILA, Philippines – The information on two Filipino jihadists reportedly killed last year while fighting for the Islamic State (ISIS) came from an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) in Syria who reported the incident to the Philippine Embassy in Damascus, Rappler learned. 

The OFW saw two dead opposition fighters on the streets of an area outside Damascus after a massive firefight between Syrian government troops and the rebels. A Syrian government soldier supposedly asked where the OFW was from and when the Filipino replied “Philippines,” the soldier pointed to the bodies and said: “Philippine. Abu Sayyaf.” 

The OFW would report this to the Philippine Embassy in Damascus, which would relay the report to Manila. It’s an old report based on an incident that happened in December 2013, according to a source privy to the information.

The death of the 2 Filipino fighters wasn’t the first report about Filipino involvement with ISIS. Two months earlier, in October 2013, the embassy in Damascus came across a report published in an Iranian news site which claimed that a Filipino “terrorist” was killed in Syria. 

Citing a military source, the report of FARS News Agency (FNA) named the dead Filipino fighter as “Abo Ahmad Shiko from the Philippines.”

ISIS now controls parts of Iraq and Syria in a bid to establish a so-called Islamic Caliphate prompting the US to carry out airstrikes that target ISIS camps. The Abu Sayyaf, on the other hand, is a terrorist group notorious for kidnap-for-ranson and bombings in the Philippines.

Rappler executive editor Maria Ressa reported in June 2014 how ISIS is boosting membership in Southeast Asia, citing intelligence reports of at least one Filipino joining 200 Australians, 50 Indonesians, 20 Malaysians going to fight the jihad in Syria. 

“It’s impossible that only 3 Pinoys went and they’re all dead,” said the source privy to the report.

A confidential Malacañang memo that recently circulated among journalists cited fears by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) that "some  Filipino fighters, pronouncing themselves as veterans, have already returned to the country and are teaching the cause of Islamic fundamentalists and extremists in Syria."  

DFA memo

The President received the information about the 2 Filipino jihadists only in March 2014 through a DFA memo. The same information was relayed to the Department of National Defense and the National Security Agency. 

The reported death of the 2 Filipino jihadists made local headlines early September following a Reuters report revealing the government inquiry into their death. The same Reuters report said about 100 Filipinos who were trained in Iran were deployed in Syria.

The DFA responded to the Reuters report by saying the deaths “remain unconfirmed” but that "the Philippines will do its part in global efforts to thwart ISIS.”

The reports came out as the Philippine military denied that Filipino fighters have left the country to fight for ISIS in Syria. Military officers denied earlier claims by former President Fidel Ramos and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte that at least a hundred fighters have joined ISIS. They also dismissed a video of Abu Sayyaf members swearing their oath of allegiance to the ISIS.

The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Freedoms (BIFF), the breakway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) which opposes the peace agreement also claimed pledging allegiance to ISIS 

Confidential Malacañang memo

A confidential Malacañang memo would also circulate among local media showing police official Felizardo Serapio of the Law Enforcement and Security Integration Office asking Executive Secretary Pacquito Ochoa Jr "to consider the creation of a Technical Working Group (TWG) that will create a database on monitoring and profiling foreign fighters, as a significant contribution to manage and inhibit further presence of Filipinos, as reported, in conflict-stricken areas as foreign fighters."

Serapio's memo raised fears about the Middle East becoming yet again a training ground for Filipino extremists. "The deliberate acquisition of terrorist skills introduces governments to a disturbing fact that radical recruits will be utilizing such type of experience into their home countries."

Serapio's concerns are echoed by other governments. In a speech last week before the UN Security Council, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said her country and Southeast Asia are also at risk from the brutality of ISIS

“We’ve seen this before. Extremists, foreign fighters returning home, responsible for terrorist attacks in our region,” she said. 

Ramos earlier expressed the same concern, citing how the slain Abdurajak Janjalani fought alongside jihadists in Afghanistan and then returned home to form the Abu Sayyaf Group. – Rappler.com