ISIS planning to attack two towns, Philippine rebel chief warns

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MANILA Foreign Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters forced out of Syria and Iraq have been arriving in the Philippines with the intent of recruiting, and they have plans to attack two Philippine towns, the head of the country's largest Muslim rebel group said yesterday.

More than 1,100 people were killed last year when pro-ISIS militants attacked and held the Philippine city of Marawi for five months, leading to massive destruction across the lakeside town.

That could happen in other cities if Congress fails to pass a law to allow Muslims in the southern Philippines to run their own affairs, said Ebrahim Murad, leader of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a separatist group that signed a peace deal with the government in return for greater autonomy.

"Based on our intelligence information, foreign fighters who were displaced from the Middle East continued to enter through our porous borders and may be planning to take two southern cities - Iligan and Cotabato," Murad said.

The two cities are 38km and 265km respectively from Marawi.

Murad said fighters from Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Middle East were known to have entered the Philippines, including a Middle Eastern man holding a Canadian passport.

That man went to a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf militant group, notorious for kidnapping and piracy, Murad said.

He added that militants had been recruiting fighters in remote Muslim communities.

"These extremists are going into madrasas, teaching young Muslims their own version of the Quran, and some enter local universities to influence students, planting the seeds of hatred and violence," he said.

Such a scenario would be a major headache for the military, which is fighting on multiple fronts on the southern island of Mindanao.- REUTERS