Military: No proof of foreign Isis in Philippines

THE Armed Forces of the Philippines will ask its counterpart in Indonesia how they got the number of Islamic militants allegedly operating in the country, stressing that there is "no proof yet of the presence of foreign fighters."

Military spokesperson Restituto Padilla Jr. said Monday, June 5, that the statement of Indonesian Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu that there are 1,200 Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis) members operating in the Philippines "came as a surprise."

“The revelations of the Indonesian defense minister is something that came as a surprise to us because as what was mentioned by senior defense officials, in truth, we don’t have those numbers,” Padilla told a press conference Monday.

Padilla said the Philippine government will ask its counterpart from Indonesia as to where they got the information on the purported presence of foreign Islamist extremists “because they have networks with nations (that) are fighting terrorism.”

“We don’t have specific proof yet of the presence of foreign fighters,” Padilla said.

“Although there is information available and although there are numbers indicated in this information, until such time that we have specifics and the documents to prove it, that is (the) only time that we will certainly agree to them (on) specific numbers,” he added.

The Indonesian defense minister told an international security forum in Singapore Sunday, June 4, that there are around 1,200 members of Isis in the Philippines, 40 of whom were from Indonesia.

Ryacudu made the statement amid an ongoing battle between government troops and Islamic bandits in Marawi City in Mindanao.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier said eight of the 120 bandits killed in Marawi so far were foreigners -- "two Saudis, several Malaysians and Indonesians, one Yemeni, (and) one from Chechnya."

The military said local bandits led by Isnilon Hapilon, allegedly the designated Isis leader in the Philippines, were being aided by foreign terrorists.

The clashes in Marawi started two weeks ago when government troops raided a hideout of Hapilon and his followers. Hapilon's group, aided by the Maute group that has also pledged allegiance to Isis, resisted the attack.

The battle in Marawi prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to place Mindanao under martial law for 60 days effective May 23.

Padilla said reports from ground commanders showed that there are only about 50 foreign terrorists spotted in Marawi.

Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said that while the government forces cannot confirm the exact number of Isis fighters in the country, “it is clear that the violence in Marawi is being waged by both Philippine and international criminals.”

Abella said the southern part of Mindanao "has long been a refuge (for) fugitives from Indonesia, Malaysia, and other locations." (SunStar Philippines)

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