IMMIGRATION officers in Mindanao were placed on high alert following reports that foreigners linked to the Islamic State, particularly from Indonesia and Malaysia, would enter the country illegally through Mindanao.
Military intelligence reports said that several foreign terrorists were planning to rescue detained Indonesian terror suspect Muhammad Ilham Syahputra.
The Bureau of Immigration said 30 more agents will be deployed in the South to thwart the possible entry of the suspected foreign jihadists by December or January next year.
The 30 immigration officers will be trained in identifying persons of interest—including terrorists, said the bureau’s spokesman, Grifton Medina.
Among the stations that will be beefed up are those ISIS in Batuganding on Balut Island, Sarangani, Davao Occidental and Tibanban Island in Davao Oriental, all bordering Indonesia, and in Bongao and Taganak Island both in Tawi-Tawi and Balabac in Palawan, near Malaysia.
“The main goal there is to monitor, arrest or stop the movement of foreign terrorist fighters,” Medina said.
In an advisory Friday, Australia warned its citizens of the “high threat” of a terrorist attack in the Philippines, including Manila, and urged them to exercise heightened caution.
“Be alert to possible threats around locations that have a low level of protective security and places known to be possible terrorist targets,” Australia added.
“Reconsider your need to travel to eastern Mindanao due to the very high levels of violent crime and the high threat of terrorist attack and kidnapping,” the Australian advisory said.
“Do not travel to central and western Mindanao due to the very high threat of kidnapping, terrorist attack, violent crime and violent clashes between armed groups.”
The Philippines on Friday called for stronger international cooperation in the fight against terrorism, saying the victories against the Islamic State in Mosul, Raqqa and Marawi do not mean the group no longer poses a serious threat to the world.
“The defeat suffered by the Islamic State in Iraq, Syria, and the Philippines does not mean the fight is over,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said in a statement released after an Islamic State-inspired terrorist attack in New York killed eight people and seriously injured at least 11 others.
In his statement, Cayetano strongly condemned the truck attack in Manhattan on Wednesday, which authorities said was carried out by a Islamic State sympathizer from Uzbekistan.
He also expressed his sympathies to the families of the victims, which included five Argentinians and one Belgian.
“The terrorist attacks in New York and other places abroad during the past several weeks tell us the threat remains real,” Cayetano said as he called on the international community to intensify its efforts in going after the Islamic State and its affiliate organizations around the world.
Cayetano said the fight against terrorism is a key priority of President Rodrigo Duterte and is among the issues that will be discussed in the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit and Related Meetings to be held in Manila this month.
“The Philippines is more than ready to do its share in helping make the world a safer place,” Cayetano said, adding that Manila is looking forward to cooperating with other countries, particularly in intelligence sharing and capacity-building as part of the country’s counterterrorism efforts.
He also expressed his appreciation to the United States, Australia, China, Russia and other countries for the assistance extended to the Philippines during the campaign to liberate Marawi from Islamic State-funded militants.
The military on Friday said the declaration that Marawi was liberated was not premature, despite the presence of stragglers.
“The stragglers are leaderless. They have no direction,” said Armed Forces spokesman Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla. “They are merely fighting for survival.”
“They have no impact on the overall security of the place,” he added.
Padilla said that there could still be 36 stragglers in Marawi as reported by the Indonesian terrorist, Muhammadin Ilham Syahputra, who was arrested Wednesday.
“Based on the revelations of this last foreign national that was captured, he mentioned about 36. But we are still validating that number because there are about three buildings here that seem to house them. And that’s in the process of being checked,” Padilla said.
Residents are not allowed to return to some 16 barangays, most of which saw the heaviest fighting during the five-month siege of Marawi City.
“The reason why we are trying to restrict that area is to ensure that not one of these terrorists may be able to escape because one terrorist who can escape has the potential of inflicting harm on many of our nationals,” Padilla said.
Some 6,462 residents from nine barangays have been allowed to return to their homes in other parts of the city, Office of Civil Defense Spokesperson Kristoffer James Purisima said.
“To ascertain that returning IDPs [internally displaced persons] are legitimate Marawi City residents, identification cards are being issued by the respective barangays based on the rolls of census and voters’ registration,” Purisima said.
“Safety is the concern so we need to implement these kinds of measures. And the local government units, and specifically the barangays are very much involved here,” he said.
Troops were intensifying their mopping up operations inside the main battle area as they hunted down dozens of stragglers.
“We are also looking at the possibility that there are still foreign fighters in the area,” said Col. Romeo Brawner, deputy commander of Task Force Ranao.
Brawner said that among the targets of their manhunt is Malaysian extremist Amin Baco, who was previously reported killed in the battle area, days after the slaying of Isnilon Hapilon and Maute chieftain Oamar Maute.
Baco, a member of the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiya, is a bomb expert who joined the Abu Sayyaf Group under Hapilon.
“We are still determinig if he is already killed or still alive. He is a Malaysian national who was part of the siege, but we are still trying to find his body,” Brawner said.
“What we can say that he is one of the foreign fighters,” Brawner added.
Marawi City comprises 92 villages, 33 of which were directly affected by the conflict.
Residential houses and commercial establishments in the seven villages have been cleared following house-to-house clearing by security forces and local government units.
The defense department said they expect to finished the clearing of nine villages tomorrow so that residents can return to their homes.
A total of 2,252 residents have returned, with each family are given P5,000 cash assistance, relief goods, hygiene and kitchen kits.
Also on Friday, the Justice department began its preliminary investigation of the rebellion charges filed by National Bureau of Investigation against a woman allegedly involved in the recruitment of foreigners into the country for terrorist activities and spreading radical Islamic extremism through the use of the internet and social media.
The members of the NBI-Counter Terrorism Division subscribed to the complaint-affidavit against Karen Aizha Hamidon before Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Peter Ong during the hearing.
Hamidon, 36, arrived at the DoJ without a lawyer, and was only accompanied by her mother. She is accused of 14 counts violation of Article 138 of the Revised Penal Code (inciting to rebellion or insurrection), in relation to Section 6 of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, She failed to submit her counter-affidavit.
Hamidon is also facing rebellion charges in relation to her 296 social media posts supposedly calling on foreign and local Muslims to join the fight against government forces in Marawi.
The respondent accused operatives of the NBI who arrested her of planting evidence against her.
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