Sunday, June 4, 2017

Indonesia says 1,200 IS operatives in Philippines; Lorenzana confirms IS backing fighters in Marawi siege

 Indonesian Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu speaking in Singapore

Indonesia says 1,200 IS operatives in Philippines

Yahoo!/AFP News

There are about 1,200 Islamic State (IS) group operatives in the Philippines, including foreigners of whom 40 are from Indonesia, the Indonesian defense minister told an international security forum Sunday.

Speaking in Singapore amid a bloody standoff between Philippine troops and militants fighting under the IS flag in Marawi city, Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu called the militants "killing machines" and urged full-scale regional cooperation against them.

"I was advised last night, 1,200 ISIS in the Philippines, around 40 from Indonesia," Ryacudu told the Shangri-La Dialogue, using another name for the IS group.

The threat of heightened terrorism, including the impending return of hundreds of Southeast Asian fighters who fought with IS in Syria and Iraq, has been a hot-button issue at the three-day Singapore summit also attended by US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

Hundreds of Islamist gunmen rampaged through Marawi, a largely Muslim city of 200,000 in the south of the mainly Catholic Philippines, on May 23 after government forces attempted to arrest their leader, Isnilon Hapilon.

Up to 50 gunmen are still controlling the city centre nearly two weeks after the start of fighting that has killed 177 people including 120 militants.

"How can we tackle these foreign fighters? We have to be comprehensive," said Ryacudu, a retired general.

"We have to find... complete ways but we must exercise caution, they are killing machines. Their aim is to kill other people so that's why it's our responsibility that we have common understanding, consensus and common proceedings on how to fight these foreign fighters."

Lorenzana: Islamic State backing fighters in Marawi siege

Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana provides updates on the operations against terrorists in Marawi City during a press briefing in Malacañang. PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Saturday said the government now believed the hundreds of gunmen who besieged Marawi City were being backed by the Islamic State (IS) because of the manner by which they fought.

Lorenzana told reporters in Marawi City that gunmen from the Maute Group and the Abu Sayyaf led by Isnilon Hapilon appeared determined to fight to the last man.

“Yes, we believe this is ISIS, because you know normally in this kind of conflict, the local armed groups will just scamper away and maybe hide in the mountains. But surprisingly, this group just held out there and were waiting to fire it out, maybe to the last [bullet],” he said, using another acronym for IS.

Lorenzana said the involvement of foreign fighters was another evidence of IS backing and that the government had obtained “some info” on the foreigners—two Saudi nationals, two Indonesians, two Malaysians, one Yemeni, one Indian and one Chechen. More foreign fighters could have been killed, he added.

He said the entry into Marawi of non-Asian foreign fighters was puzzling and he had asked officials how this might have happened. Malaysians and Indonesians look like Filipinos so it would not be surprising if they came in undetected, he said.

Lorenzana said the response he got was that the non-Asian fighters could have entered the city through the aid of some locals during the Tabligh, referring to a convention held by a group of Sunni Islamic missionaries in Marawi, which ended a day before the clashes began.

The Tabligh Jamaat is a global nonpolitical movement that aims to convince Muslims to return to the practice of primarily Sunni Islam.

Lorenzana said the IS was able to connect with the Maute Group through Hapilon, a Basilan-based leader of the Abu Sayyaf and reportedly the acknowledged leader of all IS-inspired groups in the country.

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