MANILA - (3rd UPDATE) Foreign terrorists were among those killed in the ongoing siege in Marawi City, military and government officials said Friday, in an apparent admission that outside forces are collaborating with local extremists.
At least 31 suspected terrorists have been killed so far, and about 6 of those slain were from neighboring countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia, Armed Forces spokesperson Restituto Padilla said.
“There are certain foreign elements who have been in the country for a long time aiding these terrorists in skills related to terrorism, primarily bomb-making,” Padilla said in a press briefing.
Padilla said these foreign terrorists most likely entered the Philippines through the country’s porous borders, while some managed to sneak into the country through the airports.
Government forces have been conducting bomb runs in the besieged city to flush out members of local terror groups Maute and Abu Sayyaf who clashed with government troops on Tuesday.
“Up to this moment operations are ongoing. There are still firefights between our forces and those of the terrorists and the objective of armed forces is to clear the city,” Padilla added.
The clashes prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to place Mindanao under martial law and suspend the privilege of the writ of Habeas Corpus (show the body), which would allow the warrantless arrest of those charged with invasion or rebellion.
Government troops were pursuing bandits from the Maute group while on a mission to arrest Hapilon when the terror group took hostages and burned down several structures in the city.
The elusive Hapilon, an Islamic preacher who holds an engineering degree, has a $5 million bounty on his head placed by the US due to his involvement in the abduction and beheading of an American citizen in 2001.
Solicitor General Jose Calida, the top government lawyer, also admitted that the siege laid by the local terror groups in Marawi City was carried out with the help of militants from neighboring Southeast Asian countries.
Calida’s admission reflects Duterte’s long-running assertion and reports from various news agencies that the influence of the ISIS has reached Philippine shores.
“The order to attack is not only focused on the government. People they consider as infidels, whether Christians or Muslims, are also targets of opportunity,” Calida said.
“What is worrisome is that the ISIS has radicalized a number of Filipino Muslim youth,” he added.
Calida also claimed there are efforts to establish a caliphate in Mindanao.
“Before it was just a local terrorist group. But now, there is now an ideology, they have subscribed to the ideology of the ISIS and they have pledged allegiance to the flag of ISIS. So they want to create Mindanao as part of the caliphate,” Calida said.
Calida said, the apparent arrival of foreign terrorists in the country constitutes an invasion, and therefore justifies Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao.
“Given the above clear and present dangers and atrocities happening in Mindanao, especially in Marawi City, it is the President’s constitutional duty to unsheathe the Republic’s sword of martial law to crush the rebellion that threatens to divide our country,” he said.