THE Armed Forces has beefed up security measures in Mindanao in preparation for potential sympathy attacks by ISIS-inspired groups following the killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during a US military operation in Syria on Sunday.
The likely targets of these sympathy attacks are urban centers and military installations, said Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, commander of the Zamboanga City-based AFP Western Mindanao Command.
“We have intensified our security operations in areas where they have some amount of influence,” said Sobejana, referring to groups that have pledged allegiance to the ISIS, like the Abu Sayyaf whose members are operating mainly in Sulu and Basilan.
Other groups that are linking themselves to the ISIS are the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, the Daulah Islamiyah, and the Maute Group.
Sobejana said Baghdadi is not that popular among members of terrorist groups in Mindanao, citing interrogation of terrorists who have surrendered to the military. He said Baghdadi is known only among terrorist leaders.
“The rank and file is not that affected, unless they are going to be motivated by the likes of Sawadjaan, Abu Toraype and other leaders of ISIS-inclined groups,” said Sobejana.
He was referring to Hatib Hajjan Sawadjaan, a leader of the Abu Sayyaf and supposed ISIS leader in the Philippines who masterminded three suicide bombings in Sulu this year.
Toraype, whose true name is Esmel Abdulmalik, is the leader of the Daulah Islamiyah operating mainly in Central Mindanao.
Sobejana said relentless military operations against these terror groups may not allow them the opportunity to conduct “hostile plans” but “we are not taking it (possible sympathy attacks) for granted.”
“We are anticipating the worst case scenario but there is no cause for alarm because our troops are doing their best (to preempt any attack),” said Sobejana
As to the possible targets of the sympathy attacks, Sobejana said: “The urban centers, most likely those are their targets, the places of convergence and of course military bases, detachments, company headquarters, battalion headquarters, brigade headquarters,” he said.
AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said Baghdadi’s death “undoubtedly dealt a severe blow on terrorist organizations around the globe.”
“We expect that his death will impact negatively on the leadership of terrorists in various parts of the world… Our troops in the frontlines remain on high alert to thwart possible attempts to ride on this development,” said Arevalo.
Arevalo said the military is continuing with its efforts to prevent terror groups from recruiting new members and “exploiting the situation in the countryside — all in their futile attempt towards resurgence.”
Arevalo said the AFP “seriously doubts” if the ISIS-inspired groups in the country will be able to launch sympathy attacks.
“If they are to conduct any terrorist atrocity, it will not be for that (sympathy) reason. But we are ready to combat any eventuality,” said Arevalo.
PNP officer-in-charge Lt. Gen. Archie Gamboa placed the entire police force under full alert status in case sympathy attacks, and also for the “Undas” holidays.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, concurrent presidential spokesman, said Baghdadi’s death, while “good news” for countries terrorized by ISIS, does not necessarily mean the end of the terrorist group.
“The death of the leaders doesn’t mean the extinction of that group. But then, it may also cause discouragement on the part of the terrorist groups. But as far as we are concerned, whether the leader dies or not, we will secure that part of our country from them,” Panelo said.
President Duterte has warned that some ISIS members have slipped to Mindanao.