ALTHOUGH the military is already conducting operations against 11 suspected foreign terrorists in the country, Armed Forces chief of staff Hernando Iriberri insisted that the local group harboring these foreigners is only “claiming” to have links with international terrorist groups.
“The Armed Forces is trying its best and doing within its power in order to suppress whatever plan by any group wanting to sow violence in the country,” Iriberri said.
“I cannot give you the details of the operations, but rest assured that we’re doing our best to stop or prevent any terrorist act,” the military chief said in a press briefing after reports that these foreigners are training local jihadists in terroristic activities.
An intelligence source earlier told The Standard the jihadist are believed to have established four training camps in Sarangani province, Cararao in Lanao province, Patikul town in Sulu and Palimbang town in Sultan Kudarat.
Iriberri said the military has been aware of reports that several foreign nationals are hiding out with jihadists in Mindanao since last year.
“I think there was a report that there are about 11 operating in Mindanao, but we have not yet confirmed they are here,” the military chief said.
Iriberri stressed they have not established the nationalities of the 11 foreigners, but he admitted the military believes that one of the extremists killed in Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat on Thursday is indeed Indonesian jihadist Ibrahim Ali Sucipto.
Aside from Sucipto, reliable sources told The Standard at least three Syrians, two Iraqis, five Malaysians and two other Indonesians were also in the country and are believed to have linked up with the Ansar ul-Khilafa Philippines.
Iriberri admitted that Sucipto indeed had links with the Jemaah Islamiyah, but there is no evidence to establish that he or the AKP was directly linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
“Based on our assessment, the group merely intends to bolster its standing particularly in their extortion activities,” Iriberri said, noting that the group has been involved in cattle-rustling in the past. “We have not really received or monitored any direct link between this group and ISIS.”
National Security Adviser Cesar Garcia had earlier said Sucipto was a member of the Jema ‘ah Islamiyah and had links with the Mujahideen Indonesia Timur, a terrorist group that has direct ties with ISIS.
On Monday, sources said two Iraqi nationals whose mission in the country remained unknown were spotted in Central Mindanao but the military maintained the AKP had no direct links to the ISIS and were known cattle rustlers.
The source said the two Iraqis were spotted in the area where Sxucipt was killed, but they could no longer determine where they are currently located.
The reported presence of the two Iraqis brings to 12 the number of suspected foreign terrorists in the country days before the bloody encounter with the AKP.