Philippine security forces have arrested an Egyptian national on suspicion of having links to the Islamic State (IS), the fourth foreigner nabbed in recent weeks for allegedly plotting possible terrorist attacks, authorities said Monday.
Mohammed Shaabab Adbdelaziz was arrested Sunday aboard a passenger vessel bound for the island of Basilan, a known stronghold of the extremist group Abu Sayyaf, local coast guard chief Lt. Noriel Ramos told reporters, referring to the fiercest militant group notoriously known for decapitating its hostages in the country’s Muslim-populated south.
“Interpol and other intelligence counterparts are currently conducting tactical interrogation,” Ramos said of the Egyptian, who had initially told investigators he was engaged in the fisheries business.
The arrest came on the same day that security forces carried out a flurry of military operations targeting the Abu Sayyaf and foreign militants in the south.
The suspect, from Giza in Egypt, was working as a volunteer for the Uthman bin Affan Foundation for Development, Relief, Da’wah and Education, which is based in Iligan, a city just 30 km (19 miles) from Marawi.
Militants led by Abu Sayyaf commander Isnilon Hapilon, the acknowledged IS leader in the south, took over Marawi for five months last year, leading to fierce clashes that left at least 1,200 people dead, most of them militants.
Hapilon and other Southeast Asian fighters were slain in the battle, the fiercest in recent years that had apparently caught the Philippine military by surprise.
On Sunday, the Filipino wife of slain Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir was arrested elsewhere in the south, while on Saturday six Abu Sayyaf gunmen were slain in a firefight also in nearby Basilan province, about 1,500 km (937 miles) south of the capital Manila.
Also arrested recently in a Basilan town was a Spanish national who was said to be travelling with an Abu Sayyaf companion.
Last week, police in Manila announced the capture of Fehmi Lassoued and a Filipino girlfriend. Lassoued was allegedly an IS fighter from the United Arab Emirates of Libyan and Tunisian descent.
In January, intelligence operatives in Manila also arrested Taha Mohamed al-Jabouri, an Iraqi chemist with bomb-making knowledge.
It was not immediately clear whether any of those arrested had links to each other, but intelligence operatives have said that they have been monitoring an uptick of militant activity in the south.
Murad Ebrahim, the leader of the former guerrilla group Moro Islamic Liberation Front, last week warned that the IS has also chosen the southern island of Mindanao as a “strategic ground” for recruiting fresh fighters after their forces were defeated in Marawi.
Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Bienvinido Datuin said troops were under instructions to be on heightened vigilance for the possible entry of foreign militants in the country’s south.
Troops are “continuously monitoring and verifying every information” related to movements of terror groups, he said.
“We are in constant coordination with our foreign and local counterparts to address the scourge of terrorism,” he said.