Noy: No terror threat in Phl amid Jakarta attack

Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) - January 15, 2016 - 9:00am

MALOLOS, Bulacan, Philippines  – There is no credible or imminent terror threat to the Philippines, but security forces are on alert following attacks in Jakarta, President Aquino said yesterday, warning of a “general threat.”

“Is there a credible threat? Is there a specific threat? There is none. Is there general threat? Yes. We are not immune to the problem of extremism that is happening,” Aquino told reporters after the signing of contracts for a bulk water project here.

Aquino also said the government is concerned about the possibility of Islamic State jihadists recruiting Filipinos in the Middle East.

He said Philippine intelligence authorities would ask their Middle East counterparts to monitor possible radicalization within the Filipino community in the region, which numbers up to two million.

There are reports that half-Filipinos and extremist groups had pledged allegiance to the IS that recently attacked France and other countries.

“We need to be prudent. We will coordinate with (Middle Eastern) intelligence agencies to monitor these communities to see if they have been influenced by ISIS,” Aquino said, using another acronym for the extremist group.

“We can’t be like an ostrich, which burrows its head in the ground to avoid seeing the problem,” he said.

In particular, Aquino said a Filipino-Lebanese and a Filipino-Saudi Arabian, both of whom were living abroad and never resided in the Philippines, had reportedly been recruited by the IS.

“Now, having said that, we have a big population in the Middle East – one to two million. Supposedly there are many who have been radicalized through the Internet. Of course, we will be prudent and we will endeavor to coordinate with the intelligence agencies and our intelligence agents themselves are guarding our communities to see if the ISIS is having influence,” Aquino said.

This month, the Abu Sayyaf released a video pledging allegiance to IS.

Aquino, however, belittled the bandit group’s claim and said they were riding on IS’s notoriety. The group had previously been associated with IS rival al-Qaeda, he noted.

Aquino said the Abu Sayyaf was known to link with known and popular terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and the Jemaah Islamiyah.

“Tomorrow, when there is another group, they will change their (allegiance) again,” Aquino said.

A series of explosions hit Jakarta on Thursday, killing and injuring people. The IS reportedly owned up to the suicide attack.

Following the bombing attack in Indonesia, the Philippines went on heightened alert.

“There is nothing to lose if we continue to be on guard,” the President said, noting attacks could be indiscriminate, given the nature of terrorists today.

Aquino said local security forces, aside from being on heightened alert following attacks in other places, had long conducted hardening of sites to thwart terrorist attacks.

Aquino said he met with Armed Forces chief Gen. Hernando Iriberri, Philippine National Police chief Director General Ricardo Marquez, National Security Adviser Cesar Garcia and other officials on Thursday to assess the security situation.

The Philippine Coast Guard went on high alert while the Bureau of Immigration is coordinating with other agencies to implement appropriate security measures.

Aquino called on the people to remain vigilant and help authorities ensure security.

“Are there suspicious (individuals) going around (in your areas)? Are there packages left unattended?” the President asked.

“But all law enforcement agencies, the (intelligence community), they are all focused on this problem and we are working hard to thwart any potential problem. From the areas where they could radicalize to fixing the livelihood of our brothers who might be radicalized… so they would not be attracted to those ideologies and philosophy,” Aquino said. – With Jaime Laude, Rey Galupo, Mayen Jaymalin, Evelyn Macairan

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