A Philippine soldier stands guard at a street corner in the southern Philippine city of Marawi, which was attacked by terrorist gunmen last year. (Photo by Vincent Go)
Philippine authorities have warned of possible terrorist attacks following reports of a new leader taking the reins of the so-called Islamic State group in the region.
Security officials said Abu Dar, reportedly the new leader of the terrorist group in Southeast Asia, has the capability, resources and connections to carry out attacks.
Philippine military spokesman Brig. Gen. Bienvenido Datuin said authorities are "closely monitoring" Manila to ensure that terrorism does not strike there.
He declined to identify areas that may be targeted by the terrorist group, but he assured that these places "are under close watch from us right now."
Datuin said the military has information that Dar's group is "organizing, recruiting and retraining ... and we cannot discount the possibility of an attack."
Catholic Church leaders, meanwhile, warned Filipinos to be vigilant, especially during the observance of Holy Week this month.
Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo said "there are always groups out to make trouble." The prelate appealed to everyone to respect religious observances.
Father Jerome Secillano of the public affairs office of the bishops' conference said "the public should be vigilant lest we become victims of possible terror acts."
The priest asked law enforcers not only to tighten security around places of worship during Holy Week but to also "be more visible in public."
"They should improve and make intelligence gathering efficient and truly reliable," said the priest.
Thousands of Filipinos head to churches and other places of worship during Holy Week, a week-long holiday in the predominantly Catholic country.
On March 3, security forces arrested a leading figure in the terrorist group that attacked the city of Marawi in the southern Philippines last year.
The arrest of Abdul Nasser Lomondot in Manila fueled reports that terror cells were planning to launch attacks in the capital.
Security officials said there is a "big possibility" that some terrorist fighters who escaped the military dragnet in Mindanao are hiding in Manila.
The attack on Marawi on May 23 last year resulted in the death of 974 terrorist gunmen, 168 soldiers and policemen, and 47 civilians.
About 350,000 people remain in temporary shelters around Marawi following the destruction of the city.