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Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia agree to stop ISIS from setting up bases

In this image taken by an Iraqi Counterterrorism Service photographer on Sunday, June 19, 2016, soldiers pose with an Islamic State militant flag in Fallujah, Iraq after forces re-took the city center after two years of IS control. Thousands of civilians are fleeing Fallujah after the city was declared liberated from the Islamic State group, the United Nations said, while an Iraqi commander reported fierce clashes as elite counterterrorism forces pushed to clear out the remaining militants. Iraq Counterterrorism Service via AP

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia would work together to prevent the Islamic State from setting up bases in the region, Malacañang said on Friday, amid fears that Mindanao is becoming a hub of extremists in Southeast Asia. 

Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said security and intelligence officials from the three countries discussed efforts to foil terrorist threats during a meeting in Manila last Thursday.

“Foreign, military, intelligence officials from the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia had a fruitful and productive discussion on a trilateral cooperation aimed at preventing extremists and terrorists from establishing operational bases in Southeast Asia,” Abella said in a press briefing in Davao City.   

“Let us underline that their joint aim, the end game is to prevent the establishment of operational bases in Southeast Asia,” he added.

Abella said the three countries have agreed “to work together to jointly develop and implement counterterrorism and measures and strategies.”

The trilateral security meeting happened as Philippine security forces are trying to clear Marawi City of the Maute group, a band of terrorists aligned with the IS. Eight of the militants killed during clashes were foreign fighters from Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Yemen and Chechnya, according to defense officials. 

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The meeting also came a few days after the three Southeast Asian countries launched joint maritime patrols to secure borders against terrorism, piracy and other transnational crimes.

Armed Forces Eastern Mindanao Command deputy commander Brig. Gen. Gilbert Gapay said there are about 40 foreign terrorists in the Philippines based on latest intelligence reports.

He said security forces have identified the militants, which include Malaysians, Indonesians, Arabs and Pakistanis.

The foreign terrorists, Gapay said, may have slipped into the Philippines through the porous southern backdoor.

“We are not also discounting the possibility that some may have slipped in the country through our airports and seaports. So I guess we have to really tighten and enhance our security measures as far as the Immigration is concerned,” Gapay said.

“There is really a need to enhance the security of our southern backdoor…We have to intensify maritime patrols. The recent trilateral agreement is a welcome development because with Malaysia and Indonesia assisting us, the joint patrols there would really enhance (the security in) the porous borders in the south,” he added.

Gapay said the exchange of information and the tracking of foreign terrorists should also be helpful in preventing terrorist attacks.

Some American lawmakers are concerned that Marawi City is becoming an IS hub in the region and have suggested that American troops be given a greater role in the operations in Mindanao.

American soldiers only provide technical assistance like intelligence information to their Philippine counterparts as the Constitution bars foreign troops from joining direct combat operations.  

Abella maintained that the Philippine military is capable of addressing the threats in Marawi.

“Like the president said, we’re quite capable at this stage. We welcome any support, but at this stage we take the lead, along with the regional states around us,” the presidential spokesman said.

“But we have actually shown that we can actually back the statements of an independent foreign stance,” he added

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