Government officials in the Philippines have confirmed that some terrorists fighting with the Maute group and Abu Sayyaf, both Islamic State affiliates, are foreigners who traveled to the country to help the jihadists establish themselves.
“What is happening in Mindanao is no longer a rebellion of Filipino citizens. It has transmogrified into an invasion by foreign terrorists who heeded the clarion call of [the Islamic State],” Solicitor General Jose Calida told reporters on Friday. The southern island of Mindanao, home to President Rodrigo Duterte, erupted in violence this week when Maute group terrorists ambushed police attempting to arrest Isnilon Hapilon, the head of Abu Sayyaf. Maute terrorists beheaded the police chief of Marawi city, freed over 100 terrorists from local prisons, and have raised the Islamic State flag over Marawi.
Duterte imposed martial law over all of Mindanao and urged civilians to flee Marawi where the Philippine military has begun to conduct airstrikes.
Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, a spokesman for the Philippine Armed Forces, confirmed that at least six of the 12 jihadists killed in operations so far are not Philippine citizens, but Indonesians and Malaysians. “There is a certain information that we received which confirmed the killing of 12 members of this group and half that are foreign terrorists – Malaysians, Indonesians, and one other,” he noted.
Duterte himself spoke on Friday, warning, “you can say that the ISIS is here already.” Duterte also noted the importance of illegal drug smuggling to jihadist operations, telling reports that the brothers who founded the Maute group were “policemen in Manila who got enamored with the money of shabu [methamphetamine]. They returned here and established one of the biggest factories of shabu in Lanao del Sur,” where Marawi is located. Duterte won the presidency last year on a campaign to eradicate drug crime and has since launched an expansive national counter-drug trafficking operation that many in Europe have criticized for allegedly not taking the safety of civilians into consideration.
Duterte’s 60-day imposition of martial law allows police to search, seize, and arrest without warrants and grants police the ability to censor press that may be releasing sensitive information. Duterte has told police to “spare no one” fighting them and has assured terrorists, “you will die” if confronting officers. The president has also repeatedly warned police not to abuse these powers to avoid losing the support of the people and emboldening the jihadists.
Duterte has warned for months that the Philippines, despite boasting a Christian population of over 90 percent and a 5 percent Muslim population, would become an ISIS target. “Some parts of the islands of Mindanao, there are white people. I suppose they are Arabs, and they are here as missionaries,” Duterte warned in November. “They are not armed, but they are here for indoctrination, that’s what I’m afraid of.” Duterte has also confessed to having “cousins” in the Islamic State, as his family hails from the Muslim regions of the south.
Duterte promised his armed forces “the weapons and the equipment and we have the air assets to help you.”
“I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel to look for money to see you through,” he promised. “I’ll give you all you need. Just wait for the new firearms.”
Duterte has reached out to non-traditional allies for such aid, and it appears to be working. On Thursday, the Russian government requested the Philippines send Moscow a “shopping list of defense equipment” they need to fight both jihadists and drug criminals.
“The response of the Russian Federation through President (Vladimir) Putin was very, very generous. So they said, well, we have the framework in place through our agreements to cooperate,” Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Cayetano said on Wednesday. “It’s nothing new for the Russian Federation to lend a helping hand to countries that are their friends,” he added.
Cayetano added that the police and military were “suffering” due to outdated medical equipment use. “They’re getting hurt. They don’t have the best hospital equipment. Sometimes, the Abu Sayyaf have better equipment than they do,” he lamented.
Duterte began the week in Moscow, on a trip in which he was scheduled to receive an honorary degree from one of Moscow’s best universities and meet with Putin personally. Duterte arrived back in Mindanao on Tuesday following the botched raid on Hapilon’s hideout, however, excusing himself due to the national security emergency.