AFP chief: 40 foreign terrorists in PH; more may arrive in coming months

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 23) — Forty foreign terrorists are in the country — and the military warned the number could rise in the coming months.

Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief-Of-Staff General Eduardo Año said on Thursday the terrorists are all over the Philippines, most of whom are Indonesians.

"As we counted, about 20 Indonesians and the rest iba-iba. May Malaysians, may Saudi, may mga Yemen," he said.

[Translation: As we counted, about 20 Indonesians and the rest are from different nationalities. There are Malaysians, Saudi Arabians, Yemenis.]

Martial law spokesperson for eastern Mindanao Brig. Gen. Gilbert Gapay said during a press briefing on Friday that authorities have identified the foreign terrorists in the country.

He said most of them are Indonesians and Malaysians while some Saudi Arabians and Pakistanis.

Gapay said authorities are not discounting the possibility that the terrorists have entered the country through airports and seaports, which is why there is a need to enhance the security of the country's southern backdoor because "it's very porous."

Año, who is also the the martial law administrator, said as ISIS fighters face defeat in Mosul in Iraq, they are expected to head to Asia, particularly in the Philippines.

"Sa Mosul ngayon, maganda rin yung allied forces dun. In fact, they are forecasting in six months, matalo nila yung ISIS doon. So we expect na yung mga madidisplace doon, pupunta ng Asia. And because of the Marawi crisis, parang magnet itong Pilipinas. Yun yung babantayan natin," he said.

[Translation: In Mosul, the allied forces are looking good. In fact, they are forecasting in six months, ISIS will be beaten. So we expect them to be displaced and they will head to Asia. And because of the Marawi crisis, the Philippines has become a magnet. That's what we're monitoring.]

Año revealed this after foreign ministers, top security, and intelligence officials from the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia met on Thursday to discuss ways to combat extremism.

The trilateral meeting focused on the fight against extremism amid the ISIS-inspired terrorist operations in Marawi.

Related: PH, Indonesia, Malaysia hold talks to come up with concrete ways to fight extremism

Año said stronger cooperation is needed between the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia, especially as more foreign terrorists could decide to head to the Philippines.

President Rodrigo Duterte and Indonesian President Joko Widodo have earlier reaffirmed bilateral efforts to counter terrorism and extremism in Southeast Asia.

Foreign terrorists in Marawi

On June 1, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said eight foreign terrorists believed to be members of ISIS were among those killed in clashes in Marawi City.

He said there could be more slain foreign terrorists that authorities have not identified. He added civilians reported a lot of "foreign-looking fighters" in Marawi.

Duterte believes ISIS fighters are already in the country. He also said the ongoing armed conflict between government forces and the enemies is the handiwork of foreign terrorists and not the Maute group.

"Alam mo yung rebellion sa Mindanao. It's not Maute. It's purely ISIS with different branches kasi sila yung nag-umpisa. Actually, iyang Maute brothers went to Libya," the President said on June 1.

[Translation: The rebellion in Mindanao, it's not Maute. It's purely ISIS with different branches; they started it. Actually, the Maute brothers went to Libya.]

Duterte also said he has received information from his security officials saying ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ordered the conduct of terror activities in the Philippines.

Related: Russia says it may have killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

As early as last year, the President had warned of the creeping presence of the dreaded international terrorist group ISIS — saying a number of foreigners posing as missionaries had been spotted in Mindanao.

AFP: Omar Maute likely killed

Año also said one of the leaders of the local terror group Maute is believed to have been killed, while his brother and the "emir" of ISIS in the Philippines are still alive.

"Kaya nga siguro defying yung mga members doon because Hapilon is still alive. But si Omar Maute, more or less mukhang patay na talaga itong si Omar Maute. Abdullah (Maute) is still alive, still there, still inside Marawi."

[Translation: Maybe that's why the members there are defying because Hapilon is still alive. But Omar Maute, more or less it seems like he's already dead. Abdullah is still alive and inside Marawi.]

Joint Task Force Marawi Spokesperson Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera said on Friday although he cannot disclose details on the remains of Omar, there is a "strong indication" he was killed two weeks ago.

"The possible death of Omar Maute, who was killed in a firefight two weeks ago. Nag-conduct po tayo ng iba't-ibang verification, validation to check the veracity of the report. There is strong indication that Omar Maute was already killed in the conflict area, sa sinasabi nating 'ground zero,'" he said.

Herrera added the death of Omar is a major blow to the morale and capabilities of the terror group.

He also said that now Omar is likely dead, his brother Adbullah is handling the operations of the Maute.

Isnilon Hapilon has an outstanding warrant of arrest for kidnapping with ransom and serious illegal detention, while brothers Omar and Abdullah — the heads of the Maute group — face rebellion charges. The government wants them dead or alive.

Related: AFP Chief: Duterte offers ₱10M bounty for Isnilon Hapilon

Authorities reported 280 terrorists have been killed since the start of the Marawi crisis last May 23.

CNN Philippines Senior Correspondent Ina Andolong contributed to this report.