KUALA LUMPUR: A Singaporean militant, wanted by the Philippines authorities, is believed to be at large in Central Mindanao together with three Uighurs, according to a Manila security source.
“Muawiya, a Singaporean, is still at large together with three Turkish believed to be Uighurs in Central Mindanao,” a security source from Manila told Channel NewsAsia.
The source gave no further details.
Last May, Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said in a statement that Muhamad Ali Abdul Rahiman @ Muawiya, has been in the southern Philippines since the 1990s.
MHA said there was no information about whether he is involved in the armed insurgency in Marawi City on Mindanao island which was seized by pro-Islamic State (IS) militants led by the Maute Group and Isnilon Hapilon of the Abu Sayyaf Group on May 23.
The siege lasted five months and left more than 1,100 people dead.
"We take a serious view of anyone who supports, promotes, undertakes or makes preparations to undertake armed violence regardless of where the violence takes place,” said an MHA spokesperson in May.
"We will continue to work with the Philippines authorities to identify any Singaporean who may be involved in terrorism-related activities in the Philippines,” the statement added.
Lieutenant-Colonel Gerry Besana, spokesman from the military’s Joint Task Force Central, told Channel NewsAsia the military has detected the presence of foreign fighters in Central Mindanao and is working to identify them.
“We are verifying the reported presence of foreign fighters. Unfortunately, the foreigners are mostly sporting long beards and have their faces covered most of the time,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Besana.
In 2015, Philippines’ authorities said Muawiya is a member of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and is believed to be protected by the pro-Islamic State (IS) Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a breakaway faction of the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
BIFF is seen as one of the most dangerous pro-IS groups in Mindanao. JI is the Al-Qaeda-linked regional terror group behind 2002 devastating Bali bombings.
According to former JI leader Malaysian Nasir Abas and founder of the JI para-military training camp in southern Philippines which has since been shut down, Muawiya has been in Mindanao since 1995.
Abas described him as small in stature, standing at around 155-160 centimetres tall.
“I met Muawiya in the nineties. He has been there since 1995. He wasn’t a member of JI. At that time, he was a preacher and was pretty much on his own. I don’t know what happened to him after that,” Abas told Channel NewsAsia.
“He is an Indian Muslim and is married to a Filipino woman,” Abas added.