Defense chief assures no ‘haven’ for IS in PHL

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Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana — PHILSTAR/JOVENCIO CAGANDE

DEFENSE SECRETARY Delfin N. Lorenzana said Islamic State (IS) members fleeing Syria, particularly Malaysians and Indonesians, could possibly enter the Philippines through backdoor points, but assured that these extremists will find no “haven” in the country.

“We are not yet certain that those coming from Syria will arrive here because they are still there. Their area is still being contested but we expect some of them to be trickling back soon,” said Mr. Lorenzana in a chance interview with reporters on March 20 at the Philippine Army Headquarters in Taguig City.

Ang marami ay (Most of them are) Indonesians, Malaysians, and because of our porous border in the south, they can just move from one place to another. That’s why we are intensifying our patrols sa (in the) south,” he said.

Mr. Lorenzana also clarified that the ten foreigner IS members believed to be in the country did not come from Syria.

The Defense chief said intelligence reports also indicate that these foreigner are not located in one stronghold, but are scattered in different parts of Mindanao.

“They are distributed, some are in Jolo, some are in Basilan, some are in central Mindanao, scattered.”

Despite the threat of the possible entry of foreign terrorists from Syria in the country, Mr. Lorenzana said it is unlikely that they would be able to establish enclaves.

“It is worrying, but there’s no safe haven for them here sa Pilipinas. They move around constantly when there are troops. But there is no such thing like an enclave they can stay here,” he said.

He added, “If they come in by the usual route, by the airport, then we might be able to identify them and grab them. But most probably they will come in through the backdoor.”

Meanwhile, the military reported on Wednesday that two members of the kidnap-for-ransom Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), which has pledged allegiance to IS, were killed in operations in the island provinces of Basilan and Sulu.

Adam Asarakil, alias Abu Malik, a follower of ASG leader Furidji Indama was killed in a gunfight with military troops on March 19 in Ungkaya Pukan, Basilan.

An ASG camp that can fit up to 15 individuals as well as an M16 rifle were discovered by the military after the firefight.

Lt. Gen. Arnel B. Dela Vega, commander of the Western Mindanao Command, said, “Ground troops are determined to hunt militants and penetrate enemy lairs, taking prudent actions to neutralize terrorists in Basilan.”

In Sulu, an undetermined number of ASG members were encountered by the military troops in Barangay Simusa Island, Banguingui on March 18, where sub-leader Angah Ajid was killed and another wounded.

“The Army will go after those who would want to harm our people and distract us from bringing peace and development to our countrymen in Sulu and in other parts of the country,” Lt. Gen. Macairog S. Alberto, commanding general of the Philippine Army, said in a statement on Wednesday.

Ajid was the last remaining Abu Sayyaf leader involved in the Sipadan, Malaysia kidnapping in 2000.

Mr. Dela Vega said, “We will continuously employ more pressure on them to rescue the remaining captives and gain more enemy strongholds.”

As of December 2018, the military said the Abu Sayyaf were still holding six captives, three of whom are foreigners and the rest Filipinos. — Vince Angelo C. Ferreras with a report from Tajallih S. Basman