Eight foreign terror suspects were among those killed in government operations aimed at restoring peace and order in Marawi City, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said yesterday.
Lorenzana, in a Palace press conference, confirmed that the Islamic State-linked suspects came from five countries, including Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and Chechnya.
“There were eight foreign fighters that were killed. Two Malaysians, two Indonesians, two Saudi nationals, one Yemeni, one from Chechen. They are ISIS members,” Lorenzana said.
“There could be more. There could be more that we killed that we have not identified,” he said.
Lorenzana said 95 militants have killed since the clashes in Marawi City erupted last week.
Of the death toll, he said the government has identified 25 local extremists and eight foreigners.
He said the IS militants must have entered the country through the backdoor “maybe coming from Indonesia or from Malaysia.” He noted that some Marawi residents they received reports the people saw “a lot of foreign-looking fighters” in the area.
Around 500 extremists, including those from Maute Group, Abu Sayyaf, and other local armed groups, were involved in the siege of Marawi, according to Lorenzana.
He said the armed groups had a “big plan to take over” Marawi, slowly infiltrating the area with their weapons and other equipment since January.
“The area is very porous, it’s very big. Maybe we failed to put more troops there because we were also operating in some areas like in Eastern Mindanao and Basilan and Sulu and other areas that are also flaring up,” he said.
Lorenzana said the armed groups also received foreign funds “to distribute around and buy loyalties.”
Citing intelligence report, he said Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, the subject of a manhunt of troops, got “several million dollars worth of funds from the Middle East.”
“He has a lot of money to distribute and buy loyalties,” he said in explaining how Hapilon was able to bring around 100 armed men from Basilan to Lanao del Sur.
So far, Lorenzana estimated that around 50 to 100 militants remained holed up in the city.
He said the military also believes that Hapilon is still hiding in Marawi. “We will try our best to capture him or neutralize him,” he said. (Genalyn D. Kabiling)