The Philippine’s former top spy said on Thursday that the influence and reach of the Islamic State in the country was evident as early as 2006.
Former Philippine National Police Intelligence director Chief Supt Rodolfo “Boogie” Mendoza said that eight years ago, the ISIS, led by its supreme religious leader Aby Bakr Al-Baghdadi, sent a communiqué to the Jemaah Islamiya and Khalifa in Mindanao, which both had links with Al-Qaeda.
The Al-Qaeda, even then, was operating under the direction of Baghdadi, which recently declared an Islamic State among Muslim militants fighting in Syria and Iraq.
Mendoza said that to counter the ISIS’ growing influence over Filipino Muslim militants in the country, the government should adjust its strategies and tactics to meet the challenges of preserving the country’s internal and external security.
Mendoza said that it’s high time that the PNP formulate a sub-system to cope up with the growing threat of terrorism as the Islamic State in Syria and the Levant (ISIS) recruits more militants in Mindanao.
He added that global volunteerism among young Muslim militants to the ISIS cause through the social media could create a “severe impact” if not addressed quickly.
Mendoza also recommended the strengthening of the country’s vast coastline to monitor the possible entry of explosives and sophisticated weaponry by the jihadists out to sow terror in the country.
“Our borders should be strengthened by increasing funding and the tempo of counter-intelligence operations against the terrorists,” Mendoza said.
Mendoza said the ISIS was established in the country after the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the Abu Sayyaf Group agreed to join forces under the banner of the international terrorist group.
“The shift of allegiance was a contract or a religious obligation embodied in the Koran. It’s a doctrine enshrined in the Koran,” Mendoza said.
He also expressed fears that some rebel groups operating in Mindanao may take advantage of the ISIS phenomenon by conducting bombing and other violent activities to elicit foreign funding.
Mendoza added that the ISIS continues to recruit militants in Mindanao in exchange for money, adding that he also received reports that some Egyptians and Arabs were in Mindanao since 2012 to conduct military and training to build explosives among the recruits.
As this developed, Foreign Affairs Department spokesman Charles Jose confirmed that they issued a memo on March 20, 2014 on Filipino Muslims joining their fellow militants in the IS in trying to overthrow the Syrian government, a week after the DFA denied its existence.
Jose said there was indeed a confidential memo from the DFA to Malacanang, but insisted that they have yet to verify the report that two Filipinos were killed fighting with the Syrian rebels.
“It was a confidential memo from the DFA to the President, which I was not aware of at that time,” Jose said.
“We reported to the president that our embassy in Syria received a report from the Syrian government that two Filipinos were reportedly killed fighting for the anti-Syrain government opposition, but like i said earlier, this report remains unverified and unconfirmed up to this day,” Jose said.
He reiterated that the DFA recognizes the possibility that Filipinos from the South are joining and undergoing training to fight with Syrian rebels.
“According to the statement we issued yesterday, we are aware of the potential dangers if there are indeed Filipinos going there to fight. They pose security threat in terms of the extremists view that they bring back and which they can spread here so that is one potential danger that we see,” he said.
On Monday, DFA secretary Albert del Rosario said that Philippine security and intelligence authorities have already started monitoring possible recruitment by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
“Our security and intelligence authorities have commenced the monitoring of possible recruitment by ISIS and other foreign extremist groups in the Philippines,” he said.
Jose made the statement following the confirmation by Moro National Liberation Front spokesman Absalom Cerveza that Syrian militants had recruited and funded Filipino Muslim militants to wage war alongside Islamic State forces in Syria.
Another source said an ISIS recruit, known only as alias Malik, was involved in a bombing incident in General Santos City on Monday, which injured seven people.
But Del Rosario assured that his department is willing to extend assistance and support in terms of reaching out to other concerned agencies and helping to facilitate information sharing.
The foreign agency chief however said that its department would defer to the Philippine National Police, Armed Forces of the Philippines and other security agencies on operational matters.
“The DFA defers to them (PNP, AFp) on this matter. We reiterate that the Philippines condemns the war crimes and crimes against humanity being perpetrated by ISIS,” del Rosario said.
“As a responsible member of the international community, the Philippines will do its part in global efforts to thwart ISIS,” he added.
On Friday, a confidential 2-page-memo obtained from sources in Camp Crame headquarters of the Philippine National Police contained reports of possible recruitment by jihadist to Filipinos.
The same memo also said “100 Filipinos who traveled to Iran had undergone military training and were deployed to Syria”, and that there is an increasing number of terrorist groups operating in Malaysia, Indonesia, Xinjiang in China, Thailand, and in Mindanao.
But Jose admitted that it is difficult to track Filipinos going to the Middle East.
He said that the DFA is now working with other agencies including the Bureau of Immigration and Intelligence group to find ways on how to track them.
“In Iraq and Syria, we already have a total deployment ban for a long time. We don’t let Filipinos leave if that is their destination,” he said.
“[It’s] hard to monitor even for [the Bureau of] Immigration because the Filipinos can go to another country in the Middle East before travelling by land,” he said.
Jose, meanwhile, said the Philippines will not be deploying ground soldiers to the current United States-led international coalition to fight with Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
But Jose said the government had assured the United States that the Philippines will support them in different ways other than sending Filipino soldiers to the conflict area.
“With regard to the international coalition that is being formed the Philippines being a responsible member of the international community we will consider in what ways we can contribute to this effort without necessarily sending ground troops to the area,” Jose said.
It remains unclear, though, which countries are on the list and the precise role they will play. Some of those reportedly participating are Australia, France, Great Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada, Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan.
The US had conducted more than 150 airstrikes in Iraq against ISIS, and is currently gathering information on the group’s camps in Syria, where White House shifted its focus from ousting President Bashar al-Assad to bringing to an end ISIS’ reign of terror.
Meanwhile, authorities in Davao have tightened security following the blast in General Santos City.
Davao City security forces inspected the city hall and held mobile patrols, with city police OIC Superintendent Marvin Pepino leading roving patrols, with task force members manning the checkpoints inspected vehicles, motorists and even pedestrians.
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