MANILA - Intelligence agents are monitoring some 60 foreign nationals for suspected terror ties, the military said Tuesday, after twin blasts hit Mindanao over the weekend despite the martial law there.
Eight people were wounded when a bomb ripped through a public market in Sultan Kudarat on Saturday, while a suspected suicide bomber, described as Caucasian by a witness, was killed in an explosion near a military detachment in neighboring Sulu province Sunday.
"Mayroon pa tayong mga 60 [foreigners] na mino-monitor. Hindi naman natin sinasabing they are all terrorist fighters, but they are being monitored kung ano ang kanilang mga purposes o gawain kung bakit sila pumunta sa ating bansa," military spokesperson Brig. Gen. Edgar Arevalo told radio DZMM.
(We are monitoring 60 foreigners. We are not saying they are all terrorist fighters, but they are being monitored, what their purpose is in entering the country.)
The foreigners "most likely" used "backdoor" channels, which fishermen were helping authorities check, he said.
Authorities have confirmed the terrorist ties of 7 foreigners and are conducting combat operations against the Abu Sayyaf, a band of militants suspected of coddling them, said the military official.
Sunday's suicide bomber in Sulu allegedly belongs to an Abu Sayyaf faction led by sub-leader Hajan Sawadjaan, added Arevalo.
Abu Sayyaf, notorious for piracy and kidnap for ransom, has pledged allegiance to Islamic State.
A security guard's description of the female bomber as Caucasian needs to be confirmed by a DNA test that will "start very soon", he said.
The bombing, Arevalo said, will be considered in the military's recommendation on whether or not to extend martial law in Mindanao, which has been in place since May 2017 after Islamic State-inspired terrorists attacked and held the Islamic city of Marawi.
Mindanao is troubled by banditry and armed rebellions that keep large parts of the region mired in poverty and instability.
President Rodrigo Duterte has vowed to wipe out Abu Sayyaf and has intensified military operations in its strongholds, though bombings targeting civilians and military have continued unabated.
With a report from Reuters