MANILA, Philippines – All 8 foreigners killed while fighting alongside Maute Group members in Marawi City are believed to be members of the Islamic State (ISIS), said Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Thursday, June 1.
Lorenzana replied in the affirmative when asked during a Palace news briefing if the 8 are considered ISIS.
"I believe so. They are ISIS members," said the defense chief.
He enumerated the nationalities of the ISIS foreign fighters:
There are likely more foreign fighters who died in Marawi City but their bodies have not yet been identified.
Asked how they were able to enter the Philippines, Lorenzana said it's likely they passed through the country's "backdoor" in Zamboanga which is closest to Indonesia or Malaysia.
"We do not know because we don't have any record of them coming through the proper channel, through the airports. There's only one way, through the backdoor, maybe coming from Indonesia or from Malaysia, from Sabah," he said.
ISIS funding Hapilon?
Lorenzana also confirmed that, based on intelligence, Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, now the supposed "emir" of ISIS in Southeast Asia, received "millions" from ISIS in the Middle East.
"Isnilon particularly, from intelligence, he receives several millions of funds [from the] Middle East," said Lorenzana.
This funding is partly why Hapilon was able to get as many as 500 fighters in Marawi City. With the money, Hapilon attracted followers from all over Mindanao, especially in Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur.
"They have a lot of money going around. They are buying loyalty," said Lorenzana.
In a statement on Thursday, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) vowed to step up efforts against the terrorists and restore peace to Marawi City.
"We will take down every Maute-ISIS member [who continues] to desecrate the Islamic City and thwart the security forces from restoring peace and order in this part of Mindanao," said the AFP.
Terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna earlier told Rappler that the Philippines is now ISIS' epicenter in Southeast Asia. He also said the Maute Group "are no longer Mautes."
"They are IS, because they are operating like IS, and they have changed the name," Gunaratna said. "So we have to name them by the group they call themselves." – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at email@example.com.