5 Filipinos arrested in Sabah over alleged ISIS links

MANILA, Philippines – Five Filipinos and two Malaysians were separately arrested in Malaysia in the past week over alleged links to the international terrorist group Islamic State (ISIS), according to news reports coming from Malaysia on Monday, March 13.

Two Filipinos who are permanent residents of Sabah were arrested over allegations that they facilitated the transit of Indonesian and Malaysian ISIS militants from Sabah to Mindanao. One was identified as a 31-year-old female immigration officer in Sandakan while the other was said to be a 53-year-old ferry ticket seller, according to Singapore's The Straits Times.

They were arrested along with a Malaysian immigration officer. Channel News Asia correspondent Sumisha Naidu posted the statement of the Malaysian police on the arrests.

JUST IN: 2 Malaysians & 5 Filipinos (3 of whom are permanent residents here) were arrested by Msian police for suspected links to #terror. pic.twitter.com/XE1Q678vIr — Sumisha Naidu (@SumishaCNA) March 13, 2017

Another Filipino permanent resident, 36, was arrested in Sandakan. Reports did not detail his alleged links to ISIS.

Two other Filipinos, not permanent residents, were nabbed for supposedly facilitating funds for Malaysian fugitives also linked to ISIS. One of them is an 18-year-old who supposedly pledged allegiance to Abu Sayyaf senior leader Isnilon Hapilon.

The 2nd Malaysian, 36, was arrested at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport after he was deported by Turkey for trying to enter Syria.

Rappler executive editor Maria Ressa talked about the new terrorist cell in Malaysia in a report back in January. Filipino Mohammad Reza Kiram appeared in a video that called on fighters in Malaysia to go to the Philippines. (READ: Filipino millennial joins ISIS in Syria)

There is growing concern that ISIS militants in Syria could look for refuge in Southeast Asian countries as the terrorist group continues to lose territories in the Middle East.

In January, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana claimed ISIS has made direct links with Hapilon to look for a suitable area for a caliphate in Mindanao.

Hapilon also reportedly linked up with the Maute brothers in Central Mindanao.

The Philippine military has stepped up its offensive against the Abu Sayyaf, setting a deadline to significantly weaken the local terrorist group by the end of June 2017. 

The Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia are also working together to limit the movements of terrorists in their shared borders. – Carmela Fonbuena / Rappler.com