Ten Pakistanis have been apprehending while attempting to reach the Abu Sayyaf stronghold of Basilan without any documentation, it was revealed today (Thursday, March 16).
Coast guard spokesman Lieutenant Commander Alvin Dagalea said the Pakistanis, who identified themselves as businessmen and their wives, were about to catch a ferry from Zamboanga City to the island.
They have now been turned over to the Bureau of Immigration.
“They are currently under the custody of proper authorities as they failed to present any valid documents when our coast guard personnel requested their identification during the pre-departure inspection on a ferry, docked at a local port in Zamboanga,” he added.
The five men and five women instead presented a letter dated February 23 and signed by an Alibasher Usman who claimed to be “committee on information, ticketing and visa extension head” of a mosque in Marawi, a majority Muslim city east of Zamboanga.
According to Dagalea, the letter said the Pakistanis were visiting the Philippines upon the invitation of Usman’s group, described as “purely a non-profit, non-political and non-violent religious organisation”.
The authenticity of the letter, as well as the identity of “Usman”, is still under investigation.
We have previously reported how fears are growing that the so-called Islamic State is eyeing the southern Philippines as a new power base as they continue to lose ground in the Middle East.
We have also covered the trial of a would-be British jihadist, who was plotting to leave his wife and daughter to join a militant group in the area.
Since the beheading of German hostage Jurgen Kantner by Abu Sayyaf last month, the army has stepped up operations against the group, with some success.
However, they continue to be a force to reckon with, last week kidnapping a school teacher on Jolo, taking their total number of hostages to 33.