Gonzales: Gov’t battling between 400 to 700 Islamist terrorists from ASG, Maute, BIFF, other groups
(Eagle News) — Former National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales said that the Marawi situation is “very, very serious” and “dangerous” as the Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon had managed to merge a combination of forces numbering between 400 to 700 from the Maute group, the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in his campaign to establish a caliphate in Mindanao.
In an exclusive interview with Eagle News Service, Gonzales said that Hapilon — a wanted Abu Sayyaf leader who had pledged allegiance to the ISIS in 2014 — had even required families of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to contribute members to his Islamist militant force which is copying the ISIS mode of “violent and extreme” terrorism.
Citing intelligence information he had received, Gonzales, a former Defense Secretary during the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, said that Hapilon had managed to enter Marawi City six months ago to start his work of recruiting and consolidating the various terrorist groups in Mindanao.
Hapilon entered Marawi City six months ago, says Gonzales
“Important leader ng Abu Sayyaf si Hapilon. Pumunta sa Marawi six months ago at siya ang nagbuo ng puwersa sa Marawi ngayon. Ang balita ko, nagkaroon ng contribution ang mga espesyal na grupo na naka-attach dito sa mga rebel groups natin,” he said in an interview by Eagle News reporter Gerald Rañez.
(Hapilon is a very important leader of the Abu Sayyaf. He went to Marawi six months ago, and he was the one who formed the forces in Marawi today. From the information that I have, there were contribution of forces from the special groups attached here with the rebel groups that we have.)
“For example, itong sinasabing BIFF, nagcontribute sila say ng about a hundred or so forces, Abu Sayyaf a hundred or so, yung Maute. a hundred or so at saka yung iba’t iba pang grupo (For example, this BIFF contributed a hundred or so forces; the Abu Sayyaf also a hundred or so; and the Maute, a hundred or so, and even the various other groups [contributed forces]),” he explained.
“Lahat yan nagkaroon sila ng combination of forces. In fact, pati yung mga pamilya ng MILF, nire-require na magbigay ng pitong fighters. (All of them, there was a combination of forces. In fact, even the families of the MILF were each required to contribute seven fighters),” he said.
Gonzales said that the number of Islamist militants which Hapilon had managed to combine were between 400 to 700, again citing his intelligence information. And the threat is serious as there are still some forces “from outside” who are seeking to enter the country, he said.
“So you can imagine the numbers. Sa ngayon ang nababalitaan ko sa sources natin, ang dami ng puwersa na lumalaban sa ngayon ay between 400 to 700. Yun ang puwersa ng rebelde, at marami pa ang nagplaplanong pumasok. So hindi ko alam kung magiging madali ang magiging bakbakan dyan (For now, the information I have gathered from our [intelligence] sources is that the forces that are fighting the government right now is between 400 to 700. That is the rebel force, and there are still many more who are planning to enter),” he said.
A more violent breed of extremism
Gonzales noted that these Islamist militants whom the government forces are fighting are a more violent breed of exremists who are trying to copy the ISIS mode of terrorism.
“Ang mga grupo ngayon na nag-ooperate dito sa atin gusto nilang makatulad sa ISIS. (These groups which operate here would like to be like ISIS.) That makes it very dangerous. Hindi importante kung may formal linkage sila o wala. Ang importante ay yung pinili nilang pattern or method of rebellion, medyo katulad ng nangyayari sa abroad. Ibig sabihin nyan, extreme at saka violent. Ganun ang problema natin, malaki,” he explained.
(It is not important if they have a formal linkage or not. The important thing here is that the pattern or method of rebellion that they chose – like what is happening abroad. This means [a method which is} extreme and violent. That is our problem now, [It is] big.)
Gonzales said that one manifestation of this is the beheading of a local chief of police in Mindanao who was caught in the Islamist militant’s checkpoint.
The problem is so serious with the current mindset of these Islamist militants who see the period of Ramadan differently, the former national security head said.
And because of this, Gonzales said fighting will take a more serious turn and even further escalate as these extremists are prepared to die during this Muslim period of Ramadan.
As far as the spirit of Ramadan, yan ang magiging problema kasi sa pakiramdam ng mga extremists, mas mabilis pumunta sa langit kapag Ramadan at nakipagbakbakan pa. Kaya magiging mas serious pa ang bakbakan,” he said.
(As far as the spirit of Ramadan, this is going to be a problem because the feeling of the extremists is that they will go faster to heaven if they fight during Ramadan. So the fighting will be more serious.)
Gonzales said public should support gov’t fight vs terror threat
Gonzales also advised government forces to guard and protect Metro Manila more closely. He said government forces should not be concentrated only in Mindanao.
But he said that it would be good to observe how President Duterte will implement martial law in the whole of Mindanao.
“Doing it in Marawi City is difficult enough, administering it in the whole of Mindanao will require a lot of forces,” he said.
Gonzales said that at this time, it is very important for the public to support the President’s decision to declare and implement martial law as the Islamist terrorists’ threat is “very serious” and require a “very serious response” too.
“The problem is serious. We should just support the government,” he said.
(Eagle News Service)