Philippine security officials have arrested a Malaysian suspected of helping to train militants belonging to the Abu Sayyaf terror group in bomb-making.
Colonel Cirilo Donato, commander of the Army's 104th Infantry Brigade, said on Tuesday Ahmad Tarmizi Muhamad Sayoti was captured early this month at a port in Maluso town in Basilan - 880km south of the capital Manila - while attempting to slip back to Malaysia.
Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla, the military's spokesman, told The Straits Times yesterday Ahmad Tarmizi is now being investigated by the national police's elite anti-terror unit.
Col Donato said the Malaysian was tracked down using leads provided by civilians who saw him armed and bearing the black flag of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) at an Abu Sayyaf camp in Baguindan village, Tipo-Tipo town, also in Basilan.
The military captured the camp in August.
FROM SYRIA TO MINDANAO
As getting to Syria becomes increasingly difficult for South-east Asian fighters, Mindanao may be the next best option.
MS SIDNEY JONES, director of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, on ISIS setting up a new caliphate
Col Donato said Ahmad Tarmizi was nabbed as he was about to board a boat that would have taken him to Malaysia. He had on him materials for making improvised explosive devices.
In Kuala Lumpur, Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar confirmed yesterday that the suspect was Malaysian and from Kelantan, and that he was "a supporter of the Islamic struggles in southern Philippines". A Jakarta-based think-tank, the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (Ipac) reported on Tuesday that the Abu Sayyaf and three other Islamist groups in the southern Philippine island group of Mindanao were getting funding and training from ISIS operatives in Malaysia and Indonesia. These operatives, in turn, receive refuge and protection at the militants' camps spread across Mindanao.
It said the Sept 2 bombing of a popular night market in President Rodrigo Duterte's home city of Davao in Mindanao that left 15 dead was a collaborative effort of these groups.
On Oct 4, security officials arrested three suspects said to be part of the Maute group and schooled in bomb-making by Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli Hir, alias Marwan, who was killed in a police raid in January.
The bombing was an attempt to win support from ISIS and to derail military offensives against the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu and Basilan, according to security officials.
Ipac director Sidney Jones said extremists have identified Mindanao as their "next best option" for a caliphate, as it has become more difficult for them to slip into Syria.
She added: "Over the last two years, ISIS has provided a new basis for cooperation among extremists in the region. That cooperation could take on a new importance as ISIS losses in the Middle East increase and the incentive to undertake violence elsewhere rises."