Islamic State fighters arriving in the Philippines from the Middle East plan to attack Iligan and Cotabato City, a Muslim leader has warned.
More than 1,100 people were killed last year when pro-IS militants attacked and held Marawi City for five months.
Ebrahim Murad, the chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said today (Tuesday, February 20) that similar attacks were likely if Congress failed to pass a law allowing Filipino Muslims to run their own affairs.
Speaking to Reuters, he said: “Based on our own intelligence information, foreign fighters who were displaced from the Middle East continued to enter into our porous borders and may be planning to take two southern cities—Iligan and Cotabato.”
He also said that Jihadists from Indonesia, Malaysia and the Middle East were known to have entered the Philippines, including a Middle Eastern militant travelling on a Canadian passport.
This unidentified individual had already travelled to a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf militant group, notorious for kidnapping and piracy, he added.
Murad said militants were continuing to recruit new fighters in remote Muslim communities, exploiting delays in the passage of legislation aimed at addressing long-standing Muslim grievances, the Bangsamoro Basic law (BBL).
“These extremists are going into madrasas, teaching young Muslims their own version of the Koran and some enter local universities to influence students, planting the seeds of hatred and violence,” he said.
Such a scenario would be a major headache for the military, which is fighting on multiple fronts on the southern island of Mindanao to defeat home-grown IS loyalists, communist insurgents and other armed criminal groups.
Mindanao remains under martial law since the siege of Marawi was lifted in October last year.
The military has said remnants of the militant alliance that occupied the city — the largest Muslim-majority settlement in the country — were regrouping and expanding using cash and gold looted from the war-torn city.
Murad’s statement echoed those of President Duterte, who last month urged lawmakers to pass the BBL, or face re-igniting war with separatists after two decades of relative peace.
“We cannot decisively win the war against extremism if we cannot win the peace in the halls of Congress,” Murad cautioned.