MANILA: A Singaporean man who has been in the southern Philippines since the 1990s has been implicated in terrorism activities there, Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said on Friday.
But MHA added that there is no indication if the man, Muhamad Ali bin Abdul Rahiman @ Muawiya, is involved in the ongoing armed insurgency in Marawi on Mindanao island, where the Philippines army has mounted a massive security operation to flush out rebels of the Islamic State-linked Maute group.
“We will continue to work with the Philippines authorities to identify any Singaporean who may be involved in terrorism-related activities in the Philippines,” said an MHA spokesman in a statement.
“We take a serious view of anyone who supports, promotes, undertakes or makes preparations to undertake armed violence regardless of where the violence takes place.”
The MHA statement came after Philippines authorities said on Friday (May 26) that Singaporeans are among the foreign nationals fighting in Marawi City.
At a press briefing, Philippines Armed Forces spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla said there were foreigners who had “long been in the country aiding in the terrorist activities”. He identified Singaporeans, Malaysians and Indonesians as part of the group.
BG Padilla gave no further details on the supposed Singaporean fighters, or their roles in the Maute group. But he said six foreign fighters are believed to have been killed in the Marawi fighting, including Malaysians, Indonesians and another nationality which he did not specify.
Solicitor General Jose Calida, Philippines’ chief lawyer, said these foreign fighters had heeded a “clarion call” of IS to travel to Mindanao to put up a “wilayat” or IS province, if they could not go to fight in Iraq or Syria.
“What is happening in Mindanao is no longer a rebellion of Filipino citizens. It has transmogrified into an invasion by foreign fighters,” Calida told reporters in the southern city of Davao.
Fighting erupted on Tuesday after a bungled raid by security forces on a Maute hideout, which spiralled into chaos, with gunmen seizing bridges, roads and buildings and taking Christians hostage, forcing most of Marawi’s 200,000 inhabitants to flee. President Rodrigo Duterte responded by declaring martial law throughout his native island of Mindanao.
The Tuesday raid took place at a house where security forces believed Isnilon Hapilon, a leader of the infamous Abu Sayyaf kidnap-for-ransom gang and Philippine head of IS, was hiding.
The raid went spectacularly wrong as dozens of gunmen emerged to repel the security forces, then went on a rampage across the city while flying black IS flags.
Gen Padilla said 11 soldiers, two policemen and 31 militants had been confirmed killed in the fighting, which has involved the military bombing buildings where the militants have been hiding.
Two civilians were also killed inside a hospital that the gunmen had occupied on Tuesday, and the military is investigating reports that nine people had been murdered at a checkpoint the militants had set up, authorities said.
The United States regards Hapilon as one of the world’s most dangerous terrorists, offering a bounty of US$5 million for his capture. — TODAY ONLINE