ZAMBOANGA CITY – Malaysia tightened its security for fear that ISIS militants fighting security forces in the Philippines may escape the government offensive and slip into Sabah.
It also included Abu Sayyaf chieftain and local ISIS leader Isnilon Hapilon, and jihadist militant Abdullah Maute on its wanted list along with other commanders Idang Susukan, Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, Majan Sahidjuan and Salvador Muktadil – all implicated in cross-border kidnappings over the years, according to the Malaysian newspaper The Star.
It said the tight security was ordered by the Eastern Sabah Security Command under Datuk Wan Abdul Bari Abdul Khalid, who also appealed to Malaysian citizens to stay vigilant and report suspicious persons to authorities.
Hapilon and Maute were among a group of jihadist leader who occupied Marawi City in southern Philippines on May 23 in an effort to put up an Islamic State province in the restive Muslim region of Mindanao. Some of the jihadist leaders, including Omar Maute and Malaysian Mahmud bin Ahmad had been reported killed in the clashes, although the military is yet to recover their bodies.
Filipino security officials said Malaysian and other foreign militants are fighting the military in Marawi alongside the local ISIS group. They claimed that security forces had killed over 200 militants, including dozens of foreign fighters, but troops recovered just about 45 bodies. At least 62 soldiers and about two dozen civilians were also killed in the violence that gripped the country and forced President Duterte to declare martial law in Mindanao.
The United States also sent a P-3 Orion spy plane to help the local military pinpoint hiding places of militants in Marawi. The military said at least 400 militants are still holed out in the besieged city and that 600 civilians remain trapped in Marawi and this is on top of about 240 people, including a Catholic priest, being held by jihadists. Washington sent a small group of Special Forces soldiers to Marawi to help Filipino army commanders in intelligence gathering.
Australia said it will also deploy a pair of spy planes to help the Philippine government in defeating the local ISIS group. It fears that the radical influence of ISIS poses a serious threat to the security of the South East Asian and Asia-Pacific regions. (With a report from Rhoderick Beñez)
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