The Philippine police claimed Friday they had thwarted a potential terror plot in Manila by capturing two Filipinos belonging to a group sympathetic to the extremist group Islamic State (IS).
The suspects, identified as Jimuel Velasco Dizon (also known Amir) and Eddie Boy Alejo Bermejo (also known as Abdullah) – both Muslim converts – were arrested separately on Thursday in the suburbs of Cabuyao and Sta. Rosa, an hour’s drive south of Manila, authorities said.
The two belonged to the Rajah Sulayman Movement (RSM), one of 23 Filipino groups that the Philippine military had identified as sympathetic to IS and that were being watched, the nation’s new police chief said.
The arrests were “part of our proactive measures to prevent a terror attack particularly here in metro Manila,” National Police Dir. Gen. Oscar Albayalde told reporters.
“They are identified as members of local threat groups which pledged allegiance to ISIS. That’s why they were subjected for case build up and surveillance,” Albayalde said, referring to IS by a different acronym.
“This is an indication that our law enforcers and our Armed Forces of the Philippines and our intelligence operatives are doing their jobs,” he said.
Arresting officers recovered several guns, ammunition, grenades and improvised bombs as well as two black IS flags from the two suspects, Albayalde said.
IS is said to be actively recruiting members in the southern Philippines, months after the military, with assistance of the United States, defeated Isnilon Hapilon’s group in the southern city of Marawi in October 2017.
Hapilon, the acknowledged head of IS in the Philippines, and close to 1,000 fighters from Southeast Asia and the Middle East took over Marawi in May last year, triggering the worst fighting seen here in years.
He was killed in October along with several key associates, ending the five-month battle, in which 1,200 – mostly militant fighters – were killed. But close to 200 others escaped and dispersed in remote areas in the southern island of Mindanao, where they are believed to be hiding out with homegrown militant groups, according to officials.
Albayalde did not disclose details of the alleged plot, but said the two could have been planning to stage attacks to mark the anniversary of the Marawi siege on May 23.