Govt tightens watch on PH-bound IS men

DEFENSE Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Tuesday the government is closely monitoring Filipinos returning from the Middle East after fighting for the Islamic State to guard against potential acts of terror following their defeat in Syria and Iraq.

On the sidelines of the Asean Defense Ministers Meeting in Clark, Pampanga, Lorenzana said the home-bound Filipinos with links to ISIS were in a “long list of names” provided by Kurdish intelligence.

“They have a long list of names…of Malaysians and Indonesians fighting in Iraq, [and] couple of Filipinos who might come back. So we are monitoring these people,” Lorenzana said.

The Islamic State fighting in Syria and Iraq has been crushed by coalition forces after years of trying to establish a caliphate in the Middle East.

Islamic State-inspired terrorists under Isnilon Hapilon, described as the emir of ISIS in Southeast Asia, were crushed after a five-month battle for Marawi City.

Even before the Marawi siege, the Philippines was already coordinating closely with Malaysia and Indonesia on the ISIS-inspired fighters, Lorenzana said.

Dozens of Malaysians and a couple of Indonesians who left their country and joined Philippine terrorist groups such as the Abu Sayyaf were among those killed in the fierce battle with ground troops in Marawi.

At the same event in Clark, Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne underscored the need to fortify entry points against returning compatriots bent on sowing terror in their homeland.

SECURITY SUPPORT. Australia announces the expansion of its security support to the Philippines, which will involve training in urban counter-terrorism, to fight the rise and spread of extremism in the region during a joint news conference Tuesday in Clark between Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana (left) and Australia’s Defense Minister Marise Ann Payne (right) [left photo]. Meanwhile, US Defense Secretary James Mattis attends the 11th Asean Defense Ministers and 4th ADMM-Plus, also in Clark [right photo]. AFP
“They are battled-trained, they are hardened, they are extremists of the highest order who have been prepared to do the most appalling things, using civilians as human shields and collaterals,” Payne said.

Payne said they are ready to assist Southeast Asian countries in monitoring and interdicting terrorists.

“We are focused on working with our neighbors in the region, working with the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.... It’s a complex task across oceans, seas, land and air domains to try and to do that. But it is important... for us to work closely together,” Payne said.

“I think is it important to recognize that this is not just a defense issue... it’s a national security issue... it’s a legal issue, its an immigration issue, as well as a defense issue. We work together closely with our counterparts and particularly with the relationship I have with Secretary Lorenzana,” Payne said.

Both Australia and the Philippines have agreed to increase military cooperation to address the threats of terrorism, she said.

Specifically, the Australian Defense Force will send mobile training teams to train Philippine soldiers in urban warfare and counter-terrorism.

“It’s very practical training by the ADF which will provide and support the Philippine defense force to be able to counter what are very brutal tactics employed by terrorists,” Payne said.

Canberra has been aiding Manila against local supporters of the Islamic State group in Marawi since September, deploying two AP-3C Orion aircraft for surveillance while helping in information-gathering and analysis.

Defense and military officials in the Philippines declared victory after a five-month battle there that claimed more than 1,100 lives and destroyed swathes of the city.

While it ended immediate fears that the Islamic State would establish a Southeast Asian base in Marawi, concerns remain about its longer-term intentions and capabilities for the region.

Australia has experience tackling the group in Iraq and Syria and Payne said it was crucial the Philippines had the know-how to keep extremists at bay now that the key fight had been won.

She said Canberra would send teams immediately to provide urban warfare counter-terrorism training.

“Globally we have seen the effect of extremist ideology and terrorist threats on millions of civilians and it is alarming to see this disruption come to our region,” Payne said.

Payne said the spread of Islamic State-inspired terrorism was a direct threat to Australia and its interests, and Canberra was determined it “cannot establish a geographic foothold in the region.”

As part of the boosted cooperation, the two sides will also work together to enhance intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in the south.

They will also bolster maritime security engagement and bilateral maritime patrols and co-host a seminar on post-conflict rehabilitation efforts.

Hundreds of local and foreign gunmen who had pledged allegiance to IS rampaged through Marawi on May 23.

They then took over parts of the city using civilians as human shields.

More than 400,000 residents were displaced as near-daily airstrikes and intense ground combat left large parts of the city in ruins.

In Clark, Lorenzana said the threat from the Maute group was diminished.

“The Maute family is practically wiped out. The seven sons of the Mautes’ Farhana and Cayamora were all killed in Marawi so I think the Mautes are finished for the moment,” he said.

Police on Monday said an alleged financier and member of the Maute group, Aminkisa Romato Macadato, was arrested in Valenzuela City.

Macadato, the nephew of the Maute matriarch, is accused of being involved in the rebellion in Mindanao and is allegedly connected to the Maute-ISIS local terrorist group, police said. With AFP

Topics: Secretary Delfin Lorenzana , Government , Asean Defense Ministers Meeting , home-bound Filipinos , Islamic State , Kurdish intelligence , Malaysians , Indonesians , Syria , Iraq
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