Police on Tuesday identified an Indonesian man arrested last month in the Philippines as an alleged terrorist bomb maker engaged in recruiting fighters for pro-Islamic State (IS) militants in the southern city of Marawi.
Mushalah Somina Rasim (alias Abu Omar) was captured March 10 in the town of Palimban in Sultan Kudarat province, about 149 km (93 miles) south of Marawi. The 32-year-old is being held by the immigration bureau in preparation for being deported, officials said.
At the time of his arrest, Rasim was believed to be spearheading a recruitment drive to boost the ranks of Ansarul Khilafa Philippines (AKP), a small militant group that has pledged allegiance to IS.
AKP is also referred to as Khalifa Islamiyah Mindanao, and its members are believed to have received training on bomb making from Indonesian and Malaysian militants who slipped through Mindanao’s porous borders.
Police are ready to respond to any IS recruitment, regional police chief Marcelo Morales said, acknowledging that “there are still reported remnants and supporters of AKP who fled during law enforcement operations.”
Morales said he believed that “Indonesian nationals were likely the ones spreading” terrorist ideology in the region. But he did not elaborate.
To prevent the influx of foreign fighters, Morales said, regional security officials have intensified patrols in coastal areas of Mindanao, the country’s second largest island and home to a majority of 6 million Muslim Filipinos.
“We still have follow-up operations to accomplish more and we will intensify naval patrols,” he said.
AKP leader Jaafar Sabewang Maguid (alias Tokboy) was killed in a firefight with police in January 2017.
Maguid’s group was blamed for a 2015 grenade attack that killed a police officer and wounded dozens of civilians in the southern town of Maasim.
During Rasim’s arrest, authorities recovered ATM cards, as well as Philippine and Indonesian currencies.
Police said he stayed for about a week in the southern city of General Santos, a kickoff point to launch meetings with Filipino militants from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
BIFF is a splinter group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country’s main Muslim separatist force that signed a peace deal with the government in 2014.
Last year, militants led by Isnilon Hapilon – the acknowledged Filipino leader of IS Philippines – took over the southern city of Marawi and engaged security forces in five months of vicious fighting. Military officials said he was backed by an undetermined number of Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern fighters.
Hapilon along with several Filipino pro-IS leaders were killed in a clash in October, ending the siege that killed more than 1,200 people, most of them militants.
Froilan Gallardo in Cagayan de Oro City contributed to this report.