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Indonesia: 1,200 IS operatives in PH

SINGAPORE – There are about 1,200 Islamic State group operatives in the Philippines, including foreigners, of whom 40 are from Indonesia, the Indonesian defense minister told an international security forum yesterday.

Speaking in Singapore amid a bloody standoff between Philippine troops and militants fighting under the IS flag in Marawi City, Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu called the militants ‘‘killing machines’’ and urged full-scale regional cooperation against them.

‘‘I was advised last night, 1,200 ISIS in the Philippines, around 40 from Indonesia,’’ Ryacudu told the Shangri-La Dialogue, using another name for the IS group.

The threat of heightened terrorism, including the impending return of hundreds of Southeast Asian fighters who fought with IS in Syria and Iraq, has been a hot-button issue at the three-day Singapore summit also attended by US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

Hundreds of Islamist gunmen rampaged through Marawi, a largely Muslim city of 200,000 in the south of the mainly Catholic Philippines, on May 23 after government forces attempted to arrest their leader, Isnilon Hapilon.

Up to 50 gunmen are still controlling the city center nearly two weeks after the start of fighting that has killed 177 people, including 120 militants.

‘‘How can we tackle these foreign fighters? We have to be comprehensive,’’ said Ryacudu, a retired general. ‘‘We have to find… complete ways but we must exercise caution, they are killing machines. Their aim is to kill other people so that’s why it’s our responsibility that we have common understanding, consensus and common proceedings on how to fight these foreign fighters.’’

Philippine Defense Undersecretary Ricardo David, speaking at the same forum, said the 1,200 figure for total IS fighters in the Philippines mentioned by Indonesia was new to him. ‘‘I really don’t know, my figure is about 250-400, a lot less,’’ he told reporters.

But David said there were 40 foreign IS fighters among those who seized parts of Marawi, eight of whom have been killed by government forces.

Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said yesterday they do not have information on Ryacudu’s claims.

Lorenzana said as far as he is concerned, the estimate is too high. “Masyadong marami naman yung estimate nila. We do not have information on that,” Lorenzana said.

On the other hand, Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla was surprised. Wow! Ganoon ba?! We need to check his statement thoroughly first,” Padilla said.

“Tatanong ko muna side namin if may basis ito,” he added. (AFP and Francis T. Wakefield)