No credible terror threat in PH yet—Aquino
MALOLOS, Bulacan—President Benigno Aquino III on Friday said that there is no “imminent, credible” terrorist threat in the Philippines, but the country is not immune to the “general threat” of extremism.
“Is there a credible threat? Is there an identified threat? None. Is there a general threat? Yes. We are not immune to the problem of extremism,” Mr. Aquino told reporters.
Mr. Aquino spoke to journalists here a day after a bomb and gun attack in Jakarta, Indonesia, that left seven people dead, five of whom were the attackers themselves.
The Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility for the attack, but its statement posted on Twitter late on Thursday could not be independently verified.
Indonesian police arrested three men on Friday in raids on local groups that may have been influenced by IS.
In the Philippines, authorities say IS still has no presence in the country, but they are monitoring an emerging terrorist organization that could become the local arm of the Middle East jihadi group.
A military intelligence report seen by the Inquirer identified the new group as Ansar Khalifa Philippines (AKP), which has ties to the IS-aligned Indonesian jihadi organization Mujahidin Indonesia Timur (MIT).
MIT is a regional group known as the Malay Archipelago Unit of IS, the report said.
President Aquino said he met with Gen. Hernando Iriberri, chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and Director General Ricardo Marquez, chief of the Philippine National Police, and National Security Adviser Cesar Garcia on Thursday.
“Basically, their feedback to me was there is no imminent threat. But we have nothing to lose if we remind everyone to continue being vigilant,” he said.
Mr. Aquino said, however, that the government is concerned that IS jihadists could recruit Filipinos working in the Middle East.
He said Philippine intelligence authorities would ask their Middle East counterparts to monitor possible radicalization within the Filipino community in the region, which numbers up to 2 million.
The President said that while there had been reports that a Filipino-Lebanese and a Filipino-Saudi attempted to join IS, the two never lived in the Philippines.
Mr. Aquino urged the public to immediately report suspicious people, objects and activities to authorities.
The President said the security forces had long been implementing the “hardening of sites,” referring to the monitoring and securing of vulnerable areas in the country.
He belittled the claim of the bandit group Abu Sayyaf that it was allied with IS.
He said the Abu Sayyaf had previously been associated with al-Qaida and then with the Indonesian terrorist organization Jemaah Islamiyah.
“Now that Isis is popular, they are Isis,” Mr. Aquino said, using an alternative acronym for IS. “If there is a new group tomorrow, they will have a different name.”
A day after the attack in Jakarta, Iriberri traveled to Mindanao to reiterate to the troops President Aquino’s directive to step up operations against local terrorist groups.
Iriberri went to Jolo, Sulu province, and Zamboanga province to boost the morale of soldiers stationed there and to urge them to keep on going after the terrorists.
“He also reiterated that we are on heightened alert because of the Jakarta incident. We are in solidarity with our Indonesian brothers and we will prevent other incidents in the region from happening,” Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, AFP spokesperson, said.
Besides the Abu Sayyaf, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), Khilafa Islamiya Mindanao (KIM) and AKP have pledged allegiance to IS.
AKP is a new group and is believed to be based in Sarangani province, according to the military intelligence report seen by the Inquirer.
An extremist group that uses a black flag similar to the IS banner, AKP is recruiting students and turning them into “non-Muslim radicals,” the report said.
The report said the recruiters were three guns for hire and extortionists, brothers Abdullah Romato, Mohammed Khayam and Omar Khayam Maute.
They have a training base in a remote area in Apuh Sitio, Butig, Lanao del Sur province, the report said.
The Mautes are also believed to be involved in the drug trade, the report said.
It said the Mautes had pledged allegiance to IS, but that did not mean IS presence in the Philippines.
“Despite the pledge of allegiance of the different local terrorist groups to Islamic State of Iraq, there is still no official record of [IS] presence in the country,” the report said.
It added, however, that AKP may get IS recognition in the Philippines because of its alliance with MIT.
MIT may be trying to establish a foothold in Mindanao, as indicated by the presence of an MIT fighter who was killed in a clash between government forces and a group that had broken away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Sitio Sinapingan, Barangay Butril, in Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat province, recently.
The report identified the slain MIT fighter as Ibrahim Ali, alias Sucipto, an Indonesian also known as Ustadz Abu Fatah and regarded by the Philippine military as a high-value target.
Sucipto was one of the suspects in the Oct. 12, 2002, nightclub bombings in Bali, Indonesia, that killed 202 people, the report said.
The MILF splinter that clashed with government troops in Butril was a BIFF faction led by Mohammad Jaafar Sabiwang Maguid, alias Commander Tokboy and Abu Gaib.
Sabiwang was trying to set up a training camp in Butril, the report said.
It said Sabiwang, who had been involved in a series of violent acts in the South, escaped from the Bulantay jail in Alabel, Sarangani, in 2009.
The Pasig City Regional Trial Court Branch 271 has issued a warrant for the arrest of Sabiwang on charges of robbery, homicide and murder, the report said.
Sabiwang is also notorious for engaging in extortion, it added.
The report said potential recruits for AKP could come from the BIFF, Abu Sayyaf and KIM, another extremist group that openly supports IS through postings on the Internet.
The report said the BIFF was already displaying the black IS flag.
It said a flag similar to the IS standard was found in a BIFF camp overran by government forces on Feb. 1, 2014, after a weeklong offensive. With reports from Julie M. Aurelio and AFP/TVJ
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.