MANILA - The military said Monday it was monitoring 8 foreign terror suspects in Mindanao, after a newspaper report said that as many as 100 were in the country.
Citing sources, the Philippine Star said some 100 foreign jihadists arrived in the country shortly before the 5-month-long fighting between the military and Islamic State-inspired extremists in Marawi City ended last month.
"Itong balita po tungkol sa 100 terorista na naririto ngayon, ito po ay bagay na hindi namin hawak... Ang monitoring po natin ay very much less than this number," military spokesperson Brig. General Restituto Padilla told DZMM.
"Mga 8 pa lang po ang ating mino-monitor kaya hindi po natin batid saan nanggagaling itong 100 na bilang na ito."
(This report on 100 terrorists that are allegedly here, we hold no such information. Our monitoring is very much less than this number. We have monitored some 8 persons only so we do not know where the 100 tally came from.)
The 8 extremists are bomb experts who teamed up with the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), Padilla said.
The Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research think tank is validating the Philippine Star report, said its executive director, Rommel Banlaoi.
"Kung saka-sakaling mayroon pong basehan ang report na iyan, hindi po nakapagtataka dahil bago pa man pumutok ang Marawi City siege, idineklara na ng ISIS ang Pilipinas bilang new land of jihad," he said in a separate DZMM interview.
(If it indeed has basis, we would not be surprised because even before the Marawi siege erupted, ISIS had declared the Philippines as the new land of jihad.)
A Malaysian leader of ISIS in June told militants to "go to the Philippines" if they could not reinforce allies in Syria, as shown in a video posted on social media, Reuters news agency said.
Security officials earlier said several foreign-looking individuals were among some 900 extremists killed in the Marawi clashes.
Philippine National Police chief Director General Ronaldo dela Rosa had said that Malaysian terror suspect Amin Baco took over the leadership of the ISIS faction in Southeast Asia after local leaders were killed in Marawi.
The military however said Baco may have been killed during clearing operations in the city.