Indonesia: 1,200 IS militants in Philippines
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Indonesia: 1,200 IS militants in Philippines

Ryamizard Ryacudu, Indonesian Defence Minister, at the Shangri-La Dialogue: 1,200 Islamic State militants in the Philippines (AP photo)
Ryamizard Ryacudu, Indonesian Defence Minister, at the Shangri-La Dialogue: 1,200 Islamic State militants in the Philippines (AP photo)

SINGAPORE - There are about 1,200 Islamic State (IS) operatives in the Philippines, including foreigners, said Indonesian Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu on Sunday (June 4) amid an ongoing siege in the southern Philippine city of Marawi.

"I was advised last night that of the 1,200 ISIS in the Philippines, around 40 are from Indonesia," he said at the Shangri-La Dialogue during a plenary session on regional security, using another acronym for IS.

The retired general called for greater regional cooperation to address the threat posed by foreign militants.

"How can we tackle these foreign fighters? We have to be comprehensive," he said.

"But we must exercise caution, they are killing machines. Their aim is to kill other people so that's why it's our responsibility that we have common understanding, consensus and common proceedings on how to fight these foreign fighters."

He said Indonesia could close its borders, to restrict access by the militants.

"We have to prevent and protect our borders, we can close our borders to make sure these militants, they don't move to other areas," he said.

Speaking at the same forum, Philippine Defence Undersecretary Ricardo David said foreign fighters used "back channels" in the Sulu and Celebes Seas near the borders of the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia to enter the southern island of Mindanao and link up with local terror groups.

"That's why they were able to muster the operations in the area of Marawi," he said.

Later, he said the 1,200 figure for total IS fighters in the Philippines mentioned by Indonesia was new to him.

"I really don't know, my figure is about 250-400, a lot less," he told reporters.

He said there were 40 foreign IS fighters in Marawi, of which eight were killed by government troops in the ongoing insurgency.

The threat of heightened terrorism, including the impending return of hundreds of South-east Asian fighters who fought with IS in Syria and Iraq, has been a hot-button issue at the three-day dialogue.

Philippine security forces are currently fighting Islamist gunmen who rampaged through Marawi, a largely Muslim city of 200,000 in the south of the mainly Catholic Philippines.

The siege started on May 23 after government forces attempted to arrest their leader, Isnilon Hapilon.

Dozens of the gunmen are foreign jihadis which included Indonesians, Malaysians, a Saudi, a Chechen, a Yemeni, an Indian, a Moroccan and one man with a Turkish passport.

Up to 50 gunmen are still controlling the city centre nearly two weeks after the start of fighting that has killed 177 people including 120 militants.

Mr Ryacudu said on Sunday there are some 200,000 IS sympathisers in South-east Asia, noting that the amount have left the world "overwhelmed" and in fear of the terror group.

As the world's most populous Muslim country with over 200 Muslims, Indonesia is a "prime target" for IS, he said.

Citing a survey conducted two years ago, he said about 4 per cent of Indonesians – or about eight million people – were undecided about IS. The rest rejected the militant group. The numbers show that a community-based approach to win the hearts and minds of citizens is key to defeating extremism.

"Physical action using weapons and guns or hard power to crush terrorism will only contribute one per cent in solving the basic root of terrorism," he said.

He also said Singapore has provided intelligence on Indonesian militants, but it was unclear whether Mr Ryacudu was referring specifically to Indonesian fighters in Marawi or Indonesian militants in general.

"We have coordination with Singapore's intelligence and last night, they showed me some (information) with indicated Indonesian passports or nationality, complete with Indonesian addresses.

"Based on the addresses, we will conduct our own investigation to ascertain what are their networks," he said.

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