Dozens of militants in the Philippines - some of them orphaned by conflicts in the southern island of Mindanao - are joining jihadists now waging war in Iraq and Syria, a local newspaper said.
A document from the Foreign Ministry in Manila pegged the number of Filipinos who have joined the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) at "close to 200", according to a Philippine Daily Inquirer report yesterday.
The newspaper quoted the ministry document as saying that at least 100 of them went to Iran, where they underwent military training, before they were deployed in Syria.
Deputy presidential spokesman Abigail Valte told a news briefing yesterday that immigration and security forces are checking the report. Ms Valte said the Bureau of Immigration has been ordered to be "very alert" when tracking movements of Filipinos to the Middle East. "We don't want them to get involved in conflicts there," she said.
Citing another report it obtained from the privately run Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, the Inquirer said those leaving for Iraq and Syria include orphans aged 18 to 25, who are children of slain members of the extremist Abu Sayyaf group and the secessionist Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).
The institute's president, retired general Rodolfo Mendoza, said these orphaned insurgents trained under a man named Quayyim, a Malaysian who belongs to the Jemaah Islamiah terror network.
They do not take orders from Abu Sayyaf or MNLF, he added.
"They answer to no one and consider themselves one with the Islamic caliphate," he told the Inquirer.
The Foreign Ministry document cited by the Inquirer said two Filipinos who joined ISIS had died. Their bodies were supposedly found among Syrian fighters.
Counter-insurgency expert Dennis Eclarin said Abu Sayyaf and MNLF still pose a big danger to Philippine security. He expressed concern over the spate of high-profile kidnappings in Sabah that he said was rejuvenating Abu Sayyaf.
In an interview earlier with The Straits Times, a former national security adviser of the Philippines, Mr Roilo Golez, said events in Syria and Iraq could be "a game-changer".
He said "international terrorism" tends to feed on conflagrations like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This article was first published on August 10, 2014.
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