Five Filipinos and two Malaysians have been arrested in Sabah, Malaysia, over alleged links to so-called Islamic State (IS).
Two Filipinos who are permanent residents of Sabah were arrested over allegations that they helped transport Indonesian and Malaysian IS terrorists to Mindanao.
One was identified as a 31-year-old female immigration officer in Sandakan, and the other is believed to be a 53-year-old ferry ticket seller, according to Singapore’s The Straits Times.
They were arrested along with a Malaysian immigration officer.
Another unnamed Filipino permanent resident, aged 36, was arrested in Sandakan. The charges against this person have not been stated by police.
Two other Filipinos, who are not permanent residents, were arrested for allegedly funding Malaysians linked to IS. One of them, an 18-year-old is also accused of pledging allegiance to Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon.
The second Malaysian, aged 36, was arrested at Kuala Lumpur Airport after he was deported by Turkey for allegedly trying to enter Syria.
As we have previously reported, there is growing concern that embattled IS militants in Iraq and Syria are looking to the Philippines as a new power base as they continue to lose territory in the Middle East.
In January, Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana revealed that IS had made direct contact with Hapilon and asked him to find suitable territory for a caliphate in Mindanao.
Following the beheading of German hostage Jurgen Kantner, the military has stepped up its offensive against Abu Sayyaf, setting a deadline to significantly weaken the terror group by the end of June this year.
However, as we reported last week, the group is continuing to resist army advances and is still engaged in hostage taking.