MANILA - A body believed to be that of the first Singaporean militant to be killed in weeks-long clashes in the besieged city of Marawi in the southern Philippines has been recovered, security officials said on Tuesday (July 4).
"A cadaver of a foreign-looking individual was… recovered by troops. It is believed that it is one of the reported foreign fighters from Singapore," Joint Task Force Marawi said in a statement.
A task force official added: "The assessment is he is one of the Singaporeans reported to have joined the terrorists, but we cannot give further details at the moment."
He declined to say how the man's nationality was ascertained. But a source in Marawi told The Straits Times that some of those fighters believed to have come from abroad had travel papers on them.
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Responding to media queries, Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs said: “We are currently in touch with the Philippines authorities to gather more information on the identity of the supposed Singaporean killed in Marawi.”
A large gathering of Muslim missionaries convened by Tablighi Jamaat, a non-political Islamic missionary movement, is believed to have provided cover for dozens of foreign militants to sneak into Marawi.
Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla, the military spokesman, and Solicitor-General Jose Calida said in May that Singaporeans were among those believed to be fighting in Marawi.
"What's happening in Mindanao is no longer a rebellion of Filipino citizens. It has transmogrified into an invasion by foreign terrorists who heeded the clarion call of the ISIS to go to the Philippines, if they find difficulty in going to Iraq or Syria," said Mr Calida, as he explained why President Rodrigo Duterte had to declare martial law.
Intelligence sources said as many as 40 of the 500 marauding fighters who overran Marawi on May 23 in an audacious bid to turn it into a "province" of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) came from overseas.
Militants continue to occupy parts of Marawi, despite a United States-backed military offensive there that has claimed more than 460 lives and displaced nearly 400,000 people.
Officials reported on Tuesday (July 4) that 11 foreign militants had been killed in Marawi. These included two Malaysians, two Saudis and two Indonesians, and one each from Yemen, Chechnya and India. They did not say whether the Singaporean had been included in the tally.
Malaysia's police counter-terrorism chief, Datuk Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, earlier named four Malaysians known to have travelled to Mindanao to join militant groups.
One of them was Mahmud Ahmad, a Malaysian university lecturer who was among those who plotted the Marawi siege and recruited Malaysians to fight for Isnilon Hapilon, named by ISIS as head of its South-east Asia wing.
The authorities in Jakarta, meanwhile, believe 38 Indonesians travelled to the southern Philippines to join ISIS-affiliated groups, and about 22 of them joined the fighting in Marawi.
However, an Indonesian law enforcement source said the actual number of Indonesians involved in the battle could be more than 40.
The intensity of the battle in Marawi and the presence of foreign fighters fighting alongside local militants have raised concerns that the region may be becoming a South-east Asian hub for ISIS as it loses ground in Iraq and Syria.
Last year, South-east Asian militants fighting for ISIS in Syria released a video urging their countrymen to join the cause in the southern Philippines or launch attacks at home rather than attempting to travel to Syria.