THE Defense Department on Monday vowed to pursue relentless campaign against members of the local terror organization the Maute group, which freed their leader from a provincial jail over the weekend.
In a chance interview, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana admitted that the escape of top leaders of the Maute group already proved a “threat” to the already volatile security situation in Mindanao” but played down its alleged links to the Islamic State terrorist group.
“They’re very significant … as they raided the provincial jail and their members joined them, it has become a threat. It has been a bigger threat because of these escapees,” he told the Manila Standard.
On Saturday, Muslim extremists carrying Islamic State group insignia stormed the Lanao del Sur provincial jail, freeing 28 detainees in the latest in a series of mass escapes.
Authorities however, believed that the attack was carried out to free their leader, Hashim Balawag Maute including seven others, who pledged their allegiance to the IS.
Lorenzana played down eports that “bandit groups” claiming to be part of IS, had already infiltrated the country.
“We haven’t seen any indication yet. Those who are here want to be recognized, but it seems that it hasn’t happened yet because their leadership isn’t stable yet,” the Defense chief said.
“The ISIS cannot control yet these groups … but these are just bandit groups, terrorists who do not have any sense of loyalty to anybody but wanted to be recognized for international exposure,” he added.
Lorenzana said an additional five battalions or equivalent of 2,500 soldiers, will be deployed to reinforce the government crackdown against the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf.
He said while 20 bandits had been captured, there was no sign as yet of their hostages.
He said, however, that there was a danger that the bandits would launch diversionary attacks in Manila, Cebu or Davao.
Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla claimed Monday the strength of the Muslim extremists have been degraded from series of battles in the recent past with the military and the police.
“I don’t have the latest assessment, but their numbers have diminished,” Padilla said.
On Saturday, 50 heavily-armed men of the group that claims support from the Islamic State stormed the provincial that caught jail guards, the military and the police flat-footed.
According to provincial jail warden Acmad Tabao, most of the escapees were high-value target (HVT) criminals.
Tabao said the terrorists came to the gate of the provincial jail to deliver food for the detainees and the jail guards reacted too late as the armed visitors forced their way into the compound.
He said the raiders’ objective was to spring their eight comrades that were arrested on Aug. 22 and the rest of the escapees became instant recruits of the group.
The military has declared a red alert in support of the police operations against the escapees.
“We have given out a province-wide, region-wide red alert because of this event in cooperation with the police to ensure that they are captured,” Padilla said.
But he explained that the job of recapturing the escapees belonged to the police.
“This is law enforcement. We work with the police for the pursuit and the recapture of all these prisoners and fugitives,” he said.
An official of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) issued an uncharacteristically hawkish call for the Abu Sayyaf to be destroyed.
Isabela Bishop Martin Jumoad, a member of the CBCP-Episcopal Commission on Migrants and Itenerant People and the Episcopal Commission on Mission, described the Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist group that “must be destroyed”.
“My heart bleeds upon learning the beheading of the boy,” Jumoad said in a statement.
“Destroy means dismantle them and apprehend them. If they fight, then the military must protect their lives too,” he said.
The prelate made the statement after authorities confirmed the beheading of the hostage in Indanan, Sulu because the bandits failed to get P 1 million ransom from the boy’s family.
President Rodrigo Duterte earlier this month ordered soldiers to eliminate the Abu Sayyaf, a group notorious for ransom kidnapping and other atrocities.
Earlier, the President has ordered the deployment of more troops to pursue the bandit group.
“Since 1990 until now, the government has not eliminated the Abu Sayyaf,” said the prelate.
“The bandits are just laughing at the order of the President. I hope the order of President Duterte will be executed by the military,” he said. With Vito Barcelo