Presence of foreign terrorists remains a challenge in PH

MANILA, Philippines – The continuing presence of foreign terrorists remains a challenge in the Philippines months after its military defeated in Marawi City local armed groups linked with international terrorist network Islamic State (ISIS).

At least one faction of the Maguindanao-based Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) is coddling foreign terrorists, according to Mohagher Iqbal, peace implementing panel chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

"The BIFF has foreign elements in their ranks," Iqbal told Rappler on Tuesday, January 9. 

BIFF, the breakaway group of the MILF, is the same group that coddled Malaysian bomber Zulkifli Binhir. Marwan, as he was more popularly known, was the target of a bungled police raid in Mamasapano, Maguindanao in January 2015 that killed 44 elite cops.

BIFF leaders have also pledged allegiance to ISIS, based on their recent video releases.

The group is one of the threats that the government cited when it asked Congress to extend martial law in Mindanao. (READ: End martial law? Lorenzana warns vs another Marawi)

Reports from Malaysia, Indonesia

What is not clear is if the foreign terrorists are new arrivals or they have been staying in the Philippines even before the Marawi siege erupted in May 2017.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said foreign militaries have warned the Philippines against the continuing entry of foreign terrorists. 

"There are reports coming from other countries. Malaysia ang Indonesia are reporting that there's an increase of foreign terorrists in our southern back door. We are trying to verify that," Lorenzana told reporters in an interview on Tuesday. 

"We are conducting continuous intelligence gathering," he added. 

The BIFF has been the target of persistent military operations – including air strikes – in Cental Mindanao. 

Different roles for foreigners

Philippine Army chief Lieutenant General Rolando Bautista said foreigners provide different kinds of assistance to local armed groups. 

"Sa ngayon hindi namin ma-quantify. They just come in. Hindi mo alam kung talagang foreign fighter in terms of sasama sa actual engagement or they will just provide technical support other than the armed component," Bautista said. 

(As of now, it's hard to say how many foreign fighters there are. They just come in. It's hard to tell if they are foreign fighters in the sense that they will participate in actual engagements or they will just provide technical support other than the armed component.)

Bautista said they are also continuing work to make sure that the local armed groups do not have access to resources from foreign fighters abroad. 

"Mayroon na tayong mga means kung paano natin mapuputol o ma-cut off ang support. Ang solution kasi ngayon is not more on the tactical operation. We already leveled up. Ang solution is strategic. Hindi ko na pwedeng i-expound 'yun," he said. 

(We have the means to cut off the support. The solution now is not more on the tactical operation. We already leveled up. The solution is strategic. I can no longer expound on that.) –