MANILA- The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) vowed to protect Mindanao from becoming a jihad destination amid fears that more Islamic State or ISIS fighters may choose to fight in southern Philippines.
Asked for comment, Philippine Army 1st Infantry Division spokesperson Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera assured that the military would not allow ISIS to establish a caliphate in Mindanao.
“Your Armed Forces will not allow that for the ISIS to establish their Islamic caliphate here in Mindanao,” he said in a press briefing Thursday.
“The people of Mindanao and your Armed Forces are firm on its commitment to provide a safety place for every Filipino in Mindanao so we would not allow that,” he added.
Sidney Jones, director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict on Thursday said Mindanao, particularly the area of the Islamic City of Marawi, was becoming a preferred jihad destination.
"I think it's become a hub of activity for the region and I think it's a game changer,", she said in an interview with ANC's Early Edition.
Jones explained, people used to fear that extremism problem was going to come from Syria and Iraq and returning fighters from the Middle East, but the current situation says otherwise.
"The real problem is people being recruited from the region who never set foot in the Middle East now see Mindanao, particularly the area around Marawi, as the preferred jihad destination," she said.
Herrera explained that extremists in Marawi City are “not ordinary” since they are ready to fight and die. He also suspects that the attack was planned for years and not just days.
“These are not ordinary militants or terrorists, they are ready to combat. They are ready to die for their corrupt ideologies so they are very prepared,” he said.
Clashes in the southern Islamic city of Marawi began on May 23 after Maute and Abu Sayyaf extremists and other rebels attacked after government troops tried to arrest senior Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, purportedly the Islamic State’s emir in Southeast Asia.
As the siege continues on its 4th week, Herrera said they are still facing around 150-200 militants and still trying to rescue around 300-500 civilians trapped in the battle-torn city.
“We intend to finish the fight as soon as possible. Our tactical commanders are doing their best to attain their military objectives,” he said.