Sheik Abdulrahman Udasan, Grand Mufti of the Darul Ifta of the Philippines. (Photo by Ferdinandh Cabrera)
One of the Philippines' top Muslim religious leaders has voiced concern over reports pointing to a growing presence of the group calling itself the Islamic State (IS) in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao.
"This is alarming [and] very disturbing," Sheikh Abdulrahman Udasan, grand mufti of the Darul Ifta of the Philippines, said on Dec. 2.
The Muslim leader made the comments following reports in recent weeks that an IS cell was active in Cotabato City and that three suspected IS fighters killed in a clash with government forces in Palimbang town last week were from Cotabato City.
He said IS was an "extremist" group, which openly flouts the teachings of the Quran.
The grand mufti said Muslim clerics in Mindanao are scheduled to meet later this month to discuss what to do about the reported presence of ISIS fighters in the region.
Cotabato mayor Japal Guiani Jr. confirmed the reports.
"I am listening to information which says there really is an ISIS group here," said Guiani, using an acronym the terror group is also known by.
The IS cell has been actively recruiting people in the region, he said without revealing where he received the information from.
"The recruits get free food and an allowance ... This is alarming and our security personnel should look into this," Guiani said.
There are already about 1,000 IS recruits in central Mindanao, the mayor said, citing intelligence reports.
"There were more than 30 students recruited in Cotabato City," Guiani said.
He said he had received information about the recruitment activities of Ansar al-Khalifa, a group known to have links to IS, as early as last year.
The government however says there is no solid proof of an IS presence in the area.
Although the group in Palimbang used an IS flag, the military is still trying to find "solid proof" that the organization is present in Mindanao, Major Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, a military commander on Mindanao said.