AFP: At least 8 foreign terrorists in PH

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 10) — The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has confirmed the presence of at least eight foreign terrorists in the country.

The terrorists have allegedly been providing assistance to local terrorist and lawless groups such as the Abu Sayyaf, Maute, and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), AFP Spokesman BGen. Restituto Padilla told CNN Philippines on Wednesday.

"Most of the time, they have been staying with these groups who have provided them safe havens because [they fled] away from their countries as fugitives," Padilla said.

The foreign terrorists train local groups on how to make improvised explosive devices (IEDs), Padilla added.

They were previously part of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), an Indonesia-based terror group with links to al Qaeda. But Padilla added they have been changing affiliations following the rise to prominence of the ISIS, which had put the JI to "oblivion." 

Padilla said it is unclear when these foreign terrorists entered the Philippines.

He said some may have been here since late 1900s, like the late Malaysian bomb maker Zulkifli Bin Hir, aka Marwan, who was killed in the 2015 Mamasapano clash.

After increased military operations in Mindanao, the number of foreign terrorists in the country may have gone down to six or seven, Padilla said, but the AFP is still validating reports.

Related: Military aims to defeat Mindanao terror groups in 2017

ISIS vision

Major General Filemon Santos Jr., AFP's Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, first told a congressional hearing on Monday the terrorists are composed of four Malaysians, three Indonesians, and a Singaporean.

They have "influenced the direction of the [local] groups towards achieving Daesh vision of a Southeast Asian territory and also provided them the opportunity to obtain funding from foreign terrorist organizations," Santos said.

The ISIS or Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as Daesh, is one of the world's most ruthless terrorist organizations. It is believed to be seeking to establish a caliphate in Southeast Asia, including the Philippines.

Santos said Malaysian authorities claim to have discovered a relatively new ISIS "terror cell," which seeks to bring in pro-ISIS recruits to the Philippines, using Sabah as a transit point.

Once they enter the country, the foreign terrorists join Isnilon Hapilon, the Abu Sayyaf senior leader who had pledged allegiance to the ISIS, Santos said.

The Malaysian government got these information following the arrest in Sabah of eight ISIS-linked suspects, six of them are Filipinos, Santos added. 

The military has promised to secure the country against terrorist threats.

"Our desire is to preempt whatever activities they are trying to hatch," Padilla said.

Four other suspected members of the JI were killed in a series of encounters against the Maute group in Lanao del Sur last April.

Also read: 37 members of Maute, Jemaah Islamiyah, killed in Lanao clashes – military

CNN Philippines' Joyce Ilas contributed to this report.