MANILA - At least 100 Filipinos are reportedly undergoing training with jihadists currently creating havoc in Iraq and Syria, former President Fidel V. Ramos warned on Tuesday.
Ramos, in an interview on ANC Beyond Politics, mentioned the Abu Sayyaf Group and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), which broke away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
"The report that has been reaching us retired people... at least 100 of our young Filipino Muslims have already infiltrated Iraq to undergo training to return and be jihadists or militants," he said.
Ramos did not give details but said the Abu Sayyaf has been encouraged by the success of the Islamic State (IS), formerly known known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
IS, which has displaced Al Qaeda, recently declared an Islamic caliphate in territory it controls in Iraq and Syria.
Hardline Moro guerrillas have pledged allegiance to IS, according to an Agence France-Presse report.
Clips have been uploaded on YouTube showing both BIFF gunmen and the Abu Sayyaf rebels pledging support to the Islamic State (IS).
"We have an alliance with the Islamic State and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi," BIFF spokesman Abu Misry Mama told AFP by telephone on Friday.
Misry confirmed that a YouTube video uploaded on Wednesday, showing a purported BIFF leader flanked by armed men reading a statement of support for the IS, had come from his group.
BIFF split in 2008 from the Philippines' main Muslim rebel group, the 12,000-member MILF. The latter signed a peace agreement with President Benigno Aquino's government last March.
BIFF, which is believed to have a few hundred fighters, has rejected the peace talks and pursued the decades-old armed campaign to establish an Islamic state in the southern Philippines which was begun by the MILF.
Abu Misry, described by the Philippine military as a BIFF spokesman, said his group had no plans to impose the radical IS brand of Islam in the Southeast Asian nation.
Beheadings, mass executions, and the taking of child brides have marked the IS campaign across large parts of Iraq and Syria.
Abu Misry said his group had not sent any fighters from the Philippines to help the IS, nor was it recruiting people to join the IS.
"But if they need our help, why not?" he added.
The Philippine military, however, has downplayed links between IS, the Abu Sayyaf, and the BIFF.
Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Maj. Gen. Domingo Tutaan said any connections remain "unverified."
"It can be claimed by anybody who wants to take (advantage) so they can become more notorious, so that they will be feared more since they have links (with IS)," he said.
Tutaan also refused to recognize videos posted on YouTube showing the groups pledging support for the IS.
"We do not dignify (videos on) YouTube... A lot of things can happen on YouTube… We are just being careful on our pronouncements before the media because we don't want to cause undue alarm... These (linkages) are unverified," he said. - with a report from Agence France-Presse