The Enemy is Here

The suspects in custody. Photo taken from CNN Philippines.

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) is in custody of two foreign individuals suspected of being members of the global terrorist network, Islamic State (IS). Weeks earlier, reports emerged that the group were eyeing to establish their new stronghold in the Philippines and that an influx of IS fighters fleeing the Middle East were making their way to the country.

The NBI reported that they arrested Kuwaiti Husayn al-Dhafiri, AKA Abu Muslim al-Kuwaiti along with his wife, Rahaf Zina – who also happens to be the widow of slain IS second-in-command, Abu Jandal al-Kuwaiti in their residence in Taguig. They were apprehended in the upscale Bonifacio Global City, which raises many eyebrows given that it is at the heart of the Capital.

Have the notorious terrorist group penetrated the country this deeply?

Concerns of terrorist activities in Metro Manila first rose late last year when a bomb plot was foiled by the Police (PNP) that targeted the U.S. Embassy. The PNP’s chief, Ronald dela Rosa, declared that a local terrorist group Maute – which has links with the IS – were now operating in the Capital.

Dela Rosa’s concerns were immediately downplayed by the Military (AFP), who said that they had no intelligence information confirming this to be true. That disclosure by the AFP undermined the Police and subjected Dela Rosa to criticisms saying that he was merely fear-mongering in order to allow President Duterte to curtail more civil liberties. The Police Chief’s decision to declare a “Terror Level 3” in December was dismissed as unnecessary, and the terrorist threat in the Capital was deemed to be untrue.

Will those same critics still argue the same now that state authorities can now produce legitimate members of the terrorist group who were living in Manila? The NBI acted on intelligence provided by the Kuwaiti government, who are demanding Al-Dhafiri’s deportation. The couple were wanted by the Kuwaiti state authorities for their involvement in bomb-making activities, allegedly they hatched a plan to conduct a bombing in a major Kuwaiti city.

According to the same intel, the suspects had been traveling in and out of the Philippines since 2016 – the same time the foiled bomb plot of the U.S. Embassy occurred. This revelation vindicates the efforts of Police Chief Dela Rosa and the terror threats he allayed late last year, while the AFP should be made to explain why they were not aware of the same development or why they denied the Police report.

Is this a case of dysfunctional intelligence gathering on their part or a lack of coordination between the two state security agencies? Or worse, is there a sinister conspiracy inside the Military?

In any case, the AFP and the PNP need to work better to find out if these suspects were working on their own or if they are part of a broader network operating in the Capital. Efforts should also be made to uncover the Islamic State’s scope in the rest of the country, particularly in the troubled Mindanao region.

Alarm bells should be ringing, for the enemy is already here.

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