No evidence of ISIS in Mindanao, says US envoy
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines—The Abu Sayyaf’s use of the “Islamic caliphate” flag, as shown in a recent video released by a Sulu faction of the extremist group, has not convinced US Ambassador Philip Goldberg that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has indeed reached the Philippines.
“I have no confirmation that ISIS is present in the Philippines. I have heard and seen those statements; there have been statements made here alleging some sort of involvement with ISIS (but) we have no confirmation of that,” Goldberg told reporters during a visit here Friday.
He said with all sorts of claims being made in public, Filipinos should be discerning about the information that they get.
“I would urge people to take all that with the grain of salt,” he said.
But Goldberg admitted that there were indeed “people who have tried to align themselves, at least historically, with ISIS.”
“But I cannot confirm that there is any linkage,” he added.
On reports that some Filipinos went to the Middle East to fight alongside ISIS, he said Washington was concerned.
Goldberg didn’t actually mention the ASG by name but noted that everybody was “concerned about the issue of foreign fighters and of the people going to the Middle East from various countries, and again we don’t have confirmation of that from the Philippines.”
“I know the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine government take it very seriously as we do and we’ll keep close eye on it,” he added.
But then, he said that “everybody should not take these (reports) at face value.”
Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, commander of the Western Mindanao Command, said what was obvious was that the Abu Sayyaf was “just riding on the popularity of the ISIS in the international forum.”
“So we believe it is just but a local propaganda but they don’t have direct linkage to the international group,” Guerrero said.
Guerrero claimed Malaysian militant Dr. Mahmud Bin Ahmad was in Basilan.
Ahmad, alias Abu Handzalah, 36, is a known recruiter for ISIS in Malaysia, where he served as lecturer-professor at the Department of Akidah and Islamic Thought.
Guerrero said based on what the military had gathered, Ahmad is currently with Furudji Indama, a Basilan-based Abu Sayyaf leader.
Meanwhile, the military has deployed some 2,500 soldiers to Basilan in response to the call of local officials there for an all-out war against the bandit group.
“And we have some specialized units deployed too,” Armed Forces Chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang said during a recent visit here.
Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao said the military should focus its operation in Barangay Macalang in Al Barka town; Kurellem in Ungkaya Pukan, and Baiwas in Sumisip.
“These three barangays are their (ASG) bases but they maintain some satellite bases too,” Hataman said.
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.