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2 Iraqis spotted near clash site

TWO Iraqi nationals whose mission in the country remained unknown were spotted in Central Mindanao but the military on Monday said the Ansar Khilafa Philippines that government troops were pursuing relentlessly had no direct links to the Islamic State and were known cattle rustlers.

The two Iraqis, an intelligence source said, were spotted by agents monitoring terrorist activities in the area where an Indonesian jihadist and seven others were killed in a firefight with Marines on Nov. 27 on the outskirts of Palembang town in Sultan Kudarat.

“They [2 Iraqis] were seen adjacent to Palembang town last November 23 but could not be located their present location,” said the source.

The reported presence of the two Iraqis brings to 12 the number of suspected foreign terrorists in the country days before the bloody encounter with the AKP.

The foreigners include three Syrians, spotted somewhere at the Cararao Complex in Lanao province, five Malaysians in Sulu and two Indonesians.

Capt. Joan Petinglay, spokesperson of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said ground troops have launched massive search and destroy operations against the AKP, particularly its leader Mohammad Jaafar Maguid, who had a standing warrant for his arrest.

But Petinglay described the AKP as a “criminal group” with a record of cattle rustling.

“So far, we do not have evidence to say that they are linked to ISIS or that they are a terrorist group,” Petinglay said in a phone interview.

On Thursday, eight men, including Indonesian jihadist Sucipto Ibrahim Ali, were killed in a clash with the military and police who were out to serve arrest warrants against Mohammad Jaafar Sabiwang Maguid, alias Commander Tokboy, the alleged leader of the AKP who was able to escape.

National Security Adviser Cesar Garcia said Sucipto, a member of the Jema’ah Islamiyah, has links with the Mujahideen Indonesia Timur, a terrorist group that has direct ties with ISIS.

Petinglay said after the four-hour gunfight, government troops were able to recover ISIS flags, assorted high-powered firearms, and several identification cards of individuals believed to have been recruited by the AKP.

Petinglay, however, insisted that AKP still cannot be labeled a terrorist group even as she confirmed its recruitment activities.

“There is no confirmation yet that they are a terrorist group. Right now, we consider the AKP as a lawless group,” she added.

At least four areas in Mindanao were being used by the jihadists as training camps, an intelligence source told The Standard.

The training camps are located somewhere in the forested areas in Sarangani, Cararao in Lanao province, Barangay Tanum in Patikul, Sulu and Palembang in Sultan Kudarat, where student recruits are being trained for military operations.

On Monday, the Palace denied reports that Filipinos were  among those included in the most recent abductions by terrorist group Islamic State in war-torn Syria. 

“According  to Ambassador  Nestor Padalhin, our charge d’affairs in Syria, [the]  report of ISIS abduction is not true. There are Filipinos apprehended because of expired Iqamas [or permits]. The embassy and legal counsel are  assisting them to sort out the matter,” said Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda in a text message to the Palace reporters.

The Philippine government’s repatriation program on Filipinos working in Syria continues.

Last month, 31 overseas Filipino workers from Syria returned to the Philippines.

With the latest batch, the total number of Filipinos repatriated from Syria since the unrest started in 2011 is now at 5,668.

ISIS  has abducted 230 residents, including dozens of Christians, from a central Syrian town captured by the extremists on Sunday, a human rights activist said.

Osama Edward, director of the Christian Assyrian Network for Human Rights in Syria, said that about 60 Christians were initially taken but that about half of them were released and had made it to nearby villages.

Qaryatain lies in the middle of a triangle formed by the cities of Homs, Palmyra and Damascus. With Sandy Araneta

Topics: clash site , 2 iraqis spotted
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