Lorenzana: Terrorists in Iraq could move to PH

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Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana

Clark, Pampanga (CNN Philippines, October 25) — The government has tagged more than 60 terrorists in Iraq who could attempt to slip into the Philippines.

The Philippine Embassy in Baghdad identified about 30 Malaysians, 30 Indonesians and three Filipinos fighting for ISIS in Iraq, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters on Tuesday.

The Defense department is monitoring their movements in case they try to enter the country. "We will be watching them if they come," Lorenzana said.

The spread of violent extremism was at the top of the agenda as the Philippines hosted the annual meeting of defense leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its major partners.

Even as the government celebrated its landmark win over the ISIS-inspired Maute group in Marawi, defense leaders shared fears terrorists could stage a comeback.

They noted how easily foreign fighters could move undetected from one territory to another. As ISIS suffers heavy losses in Iraq and Syria, they noted Asia could be one of the next targets.

"We have very porous borders in the region. But as far as possible, we want to track where people are travelling," Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne said in a press briefing.

Australia has offered a range of new initiatives to help the Philippines patrol its borders. This includes training the Armed Forces in urban warfare and counter-terrorism; enhancing surveillance and reconnaissance in Mindanao; sharing information; and coordinating maritime patrols.

"We are very focused on working with our neighbors in the region - working with the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore… to be vigilant in terms of our border protection," Payne said.

The Philippines could also benefit from increased cooperation with other ASEAN countries.

According to Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Tun Hussein, Singapore and Brunei want to join the trilateral arrangement of the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. The next-door neighbors coordinate their air and sea patrols to guard against militants crossing borders.

Foreign terrorists played a key role in Marawi, helping to fund and fight in the five-month battle. They hailed from countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, India and Morocco. Most of them had recently gone overseas, particularly the Middle East region.