THE military is watching Arab and other foreign nationals who might be supporting terrorist groups in Lanao del Sur and other parts of the country, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Gen. Eduardo Año said Wednesday.
“There are some sightings... but there are Arabs going there on the pretext of setting up foundations or doing religious teaching, so we are not really sure,” Año said in Filipino. “It is part of the intelligence task to see if these foreigners are supporting local terror groups, including those of Abu Sayyaf commander Isnilon Hapilon.”
Earlier, Año said that about 37 Maute Group members, including three Indonesians and a Malaysian, were killed in military operations in Lanao Del Sur from April 21 to 24.
The operations were designed to degrade the capability of the Maute Group.
After its major victory over the Maute Group, the military has doubled security measures in all vital government and private installations, particularly as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit unfolds.
Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera, spokesman of the Army’s 1st Tabak Division, said security measures were intensified in areas where many people congregate as a safeguard against possible retaliatory attacks.
Under tight watch are the provinces of Zamboanga, Iligan, Marawi City, Lanao del Norte and adjacent areas where the Maute group and Abu Sayyaf had links.
The death toll in Lanao del Sur fighting has risen to 38 Maute bandits and several others critically wounded during four days of ground and aerial bombardment on their encampment in Brgy. Pagalungan.
In Manila, the police and military have tightened security around the periphery of the Asean Summit venue, the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City and in areas where the delegates and foreign dignitaries are billeted.
Herrera said added checkpoints were in place.
At present, a battalion of ground troops remained on the outskirts of Piagapo and adjacent municipalities pursuing the bandits who fled to forested areas.
Several improvised bombs and components were seized from the bandit bunkers.
Some 2,000 residents had left their homes and sheltered in government centers to escape being caught in the crossfire between Maute and attacking soldiers.