Lorenzana: ‘New ISIS emir in SE Asia’ can’t gather as much force as Hapilon

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Philippines Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana (L) with Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Eduardo Ano (R), answers questions during a press conference in Clark, east of Manila on October 23, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / NOEL CELIS

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Monday downplayed the report that Malaysian terrorist Amin Baco has replaced Isnilon Hapilon as the emir of the Islamic State in Southeast Asia.

“Hindi naman sa minamaliit pero (Not to belittle him but) he can no longer mass up that number of troops na kayang dalhin ni Isnilon sa Marawi (like Isnilon was able to do in Marawi), about close to a thousand fighters, fully equipped, fully armed and fully supplied with ammunition,” he told reporters on the sidelines of the Department of National Defense anniversary at Camp Aguinaldo.

Lorenzana said they have heard information on the possibility of Baco as the successor of Hapilon, but said he believes that Baco is not as high profile as the slain leader.

“We heard the news that he could be the successor of Isnilon as the emir [of ISIS]. Since they are already splintered, kalat-kalat na sila so hinahabol pa namin siya. ‘Pag nahuli namin siya, mas maganda (They’re scattered so we’re still chasing them down. If we catch him, then that’s better),” he said.

“Hindi naman lumalabas ang pangalan niya noon, ngayon lang (His name has never surfaced before, just now), maybe he is not as high profile as Isnilon. Siguro middle level lang pero it seems wala nang leaders na mas mataas sa kanya (Maybe he’s just middle level but it seems there are no more leaders who are higher than him so) then he may be taking over,” Lorenzana added.

Philippine National Police chief Dir. Gen. Ronald Dela Rosa said in an earlier press conference that Baco is the new emir of Southeast Asia, citing information from Mohammad Ilham Syahputra, an Indonesian terrorist who was arrested last week in Marawi City.

READ: Marwan student is new ISIS chief in Southeast Asia—PNP Chief

Baco was a trained bomber by slain terrorist Zulkifli Bin Hir alias Marwan, who used to be one of Southeast Asia’s most wanted terrorists.

Western Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez said they are hoping that Baco is already dead.

“Yesterday the ground commanders [in Marawi] have reported to me that there are body counts there in the areas where they are hiding and hopefully isa si (one of them is) Baco,” he told reporters at Villamor Air Base. /je

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