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Source: Manila Bulletin

Yes, individuals claiming links with the Islamic State (IS) are recruiting Moro youths in Central Mindanao, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) confirmed this on Monday.

“What is confirmed right now is there is ongoing recruitment of young people in the various provinces, especially in Maguindanao and Cotabato City and also in Marawi City (in Lanao del Sur,” said Mohagher Iqbal, chief negotiator of the MILF, said.

“That is confirmed,” he emphasized.

“But whether or not there is already a formal foothold of the ISIS in Mindanao, that is still a subject for validation, we have not confirmed that,” said the MILF leader.

He added that some groups — which he did not identify — in Lanao del Sur and Cotabato — have been claiming to have formed groups that are attached to the ISIS.

He said the provinces where the said recruitment is being conducted are Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur, both components of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Iqbal made the confirmation as 26 Muslim religious leaders in ARMM also admitted last week that “tentacles” of extremist groups, referring to the ISIS, or IS (Islamic State), have reached ARMM.

The religious leaders said, “these extremist groups have extended its tentacles in conflict-affected Muslim Mindanao,” adding they gained supporters from youths who felt deceived by the non-passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in Congress.

For his part, Iqbal, who chairs the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that drafted the original BBL, clarified that they still cannot confirm if the ISIS has planted a “formal foothold” in Central Mindanao.

Whether the rise of extremism in the said area is because of the BBL’s uncertain fate, the MILF leader said that it could be both.

“It can be part of the delay in BBL, or it can be part of a global situation, where in the Middle East there is no peace,” he said.

Iqbal said what is happening in the Middle East, practically a civil war among Muslims, “is a global problem and, for the MILF, we do not want the problem in Mindanao, not the MILF (but radicalism), to be a part of this global problem.”

He suggested that the national government, referring to Malacanang, Senate, and House of Representatives, address the problem in Mindanao before it becomes a larger and more serious global concern or problem.

Meanwhile, he said the MILF considers the Mamasapano incident a closed case, and that the Front has nothing more to add.

Iqbal said their investigating team completed its investigation on the encounter between the MILF and the commandos of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) that killed 44 SAF men, 18 MILF fighters, and five or seven civilians.

“If the investigation is to get justice, the MILF casualties and the civilians also deserve justice,” he said, citing in particular a child who was killed in the fighting that also involved the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM) and Ustadhz Ameril “Umra” Kato.

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