They were be­lieved to have en­tered the Philip­pines three years ago

New Straits Times - - News / Story of the day - KRISTY INUS AND AVILA GERALDINE KOTA KINABALU news@nst.com.my

MALAYSIANS, In­done­sians and Sin­ga­pore­ans are be­lieved to be among those with the Is­lamic State-linked militants in­volved in the es­ca­lat­ing clash in Min­danao, the Philip­pines.

Fed­eral po­lice sources have re­vealed that two Malaysians were among 31 militants killed as of yes­ter­day and iden­ti­fied them as Ab­du­rah­man As­mawi from Ke­lan­tan and Dr Kamsa Yahya from Kedah.

Ab­du­rah­man and Kamsa were be­lieved to have en­tered the neigh­bour­ing coun­try some three years ago on the pre­text of con­duct­ing re­li­gious ac­tiv­i­ties in Min­danao.

They were among four Malaysians, in­clud­ing for­mer Univer­siti Malaya lec­turer Dr Mah­mud Ah­mad, be­lieved to be in­volved in IS mil­i­tant ac­tiv­i­ties in the south­ern Philip­pines.

Philip­pines Armed Forces spokesman Bri­gadier-Gen­eral Resti­tuto Padilla, in a press con­fer­ence yes­ter­day, did not re­veal any iden­ti­ties of those killed, but af­firmed for­eign­ers had long been in the coun­try with the ter­ror­ists.

Malaysians, In­done­sians and Sin­ga­pore­ans were be­lieved to be in­volved in the on­go­ing fight in Marawi, Min­danao, he said in the brief­ing held in Davao City.

“They also as­sisted in bomb­mak­ing. We are con­tin­u­ously ver­i­fy­ing that there have been a num­ber of them killed.

“There is cer­tain in­for­ma­tion that we re­ceived which con­firmed the killing of 12 mem­bers of this group.

“About half of that num­ber (of those killed) are for­eign ter­ror­ists from Malaysia and In­done­sia, as well as other (coun­tries). So, that con­firms the pres­ence of these for­eign ter­ror­ists,” he said.

Padilla also noted there were for­eign ter­ror­ists killed in sev­eral op­er­a­tions car­ried out in the last few months, adding that the Philip­pine au­thor­i­ties had been com­mu­ni­cat­ing with the re­spec­tive govern­ment for as­sis­tance in in­for­ma­tion shar­ing.

Since the ten­sion, the Philip­pine se­cu­rity forces have stepped up their op­er­a­tions to clear Min­danao con­flict zones of militants, who are still in the af­fected ar­eas.

As of Thurs­day mid­night, the Philip­pine troops had reached sev­eral parts of Marawi City, which was held by ter­ror­ist el­e­ments in the past few days, and neu­tralised 18 IS fighters, bring­ing the to­tal num­ber of ter­ror­ists killed to 31.

“The op­er­a­tions are on­go­ing and there are still fire­fights be­tween our forces and the militants in cer­tain parts of the city.

“But, the ob­jec­tive of our armed forces is to clear the city as soon as pos­si­ble,” said Padilla.

Ac­cord­ing to Reuters, the Philip­pines armed forces have de­ployed at­tack he­li­copters and spe­cial forces to drive rebels of the IS-linked Maute group out of Marawi City since Thurs­day.

The an­nounce­ment el­e­vated the threat of what ex­perts and the mil­i­tary said were moves by IS to ex­ploit the poverty and law­less­ness of pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim Min­danao is­land to es­tab­lish a base for ex­trem­ists from South­east Asia and be­yond.

“What’s hap­pen­ing in Min­danao is no longer a re­bel­lion of Filipino cit­i­zens,” Philip­pine Solic­i­tor Gen­eral Jose Cal­ida said at a news con­fer­ence.

“It has trans­mo­gri­fied into an in­va­sion by for­eign ter­ror­ists, who heeded the call of IS to go to the Philip­pines if they find dif­fi­culty in go­ing to Iraq and Syria,” he said.

On Tues­day, Philip­pine pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte im­posed mar­tial law in Min­danao, home to about 20 mil­lion peo­ple af­ter gun­men who de­clared al­le­giance to the IS group ram­paged through Marawi City.

Duterte had warned that the mar­tial law would be “harsh” and “like a dic­ta­tor­ship”, stress­ing the im­po­si­tion of di­rect mil­i­tary con­trol in Min­danao could last up to a year.

Mean­while, Eastern Sabah Se­cu­rity Com­mand (Ess­com) com­man­der Datuk Wan Ab­dul Bari Wan Ab­dul Khalid said there had been no move­ment of Filipinos, es­pe­cially flee­ing militants, try­ing to sneak into Sabah fol­low­ing the con­flict.

“We have in­ten­si­fied out op­er­a­tions.

“We are mon­i­tor­ing the sea closely with our coun­ter­part from the other side and we are also do­ing land pa­trols,” he said.

On the pres­ence of heavy se­cu­rity as­sets in Felda Sa­ha­bat lately, Bari said it was “a nor­mal op­er­a­tion” since the es­tab­lish­ment of Ess­com to clear the area of il­le­gal im­mi­grants and ter­ror­ist el­e­ments.

“This is a con­tin­u­ous step we car­ried out in all districts un­der the Eastern Sabah Safety Zone to en­sure there is no land­ing.

“If we don’t do such op­er­a­tions, how are we go­ing to track down in­trud­ers? We can­not de­pend on re­ports lodged by mem­bers of the pub­lic.

“These are some of the mea­sures we must take. We are be­ing proac­tive be­cause we don’t want to wait for some­thing to hap­pen,” he said, adding that Ess­com had car­ried out 651 in­te­grated op­er­a­tions in­volv­ing en­force­ment agen­cies last year.

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