ISIS declares a province in the Philippines, as its push into Asia grows stronger
EXCLUSIVE: New video released on January 4, 2016 shows consolidation of extremist groups pledging allegiance to ISIS in the Philippines
MANILA, Philippines – The Islamic State in Syria & Iraq, also known as ISIS, IS, ISIL, or Da’esch, its loose arabic acronym, may soon declare a wilayat or province in the southern Philippines. If so, it would be the first recognized satellite extension of the caliphate in Southeast Asia.
A new video from Mindanao which began circulating on the dark web jihadi forum Shumukh al-Islam on January 4, 2016 shows Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon marching with other extremist leaders from Sulu and Basilan, including Abu Sharifa, the leader of Ansar al-Khilafa, among the most aggressive and targeted Filipino groups linked to ISIS. The groups pledge allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
“The ISIS-initiated merger of the fighting formations and unifications of the leaders will present an unprecedented challenge to the Manila government,” terror expert Rohan Gunaratna told Rappler. Gunaratna is the author of Inside al-Qaedaand the head of the International Centre for Political Violence & Terrorism Research in Singapore.
“In the Philippines, the next step ISIS is likely to take is the proclamation of wilayatMindanao,” said Gunaratna.
“With the proclamation of an ISIS branch in the southern Philippines, the ISIS influence and ideology is likely to grow, affecting both the southern Philippines and eastern Malaysia. ISIS is likely to create a safe haven in Basilan and mount operations from the Sulu archipelago into both the Philippines and Malaysia,” Gunaratna added.
Who are they?
The most prominent figure in the video is ideological leader Isnilon Hapilon, but this isn’t the first time he’s declared support for ISIS.
On July 23, 2014, a video of senior Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon along with masked men was posted on YouTube, first reported by Rappler. Hapilon carries a reward of up to $5 million from the US Rewards for Justice Program. He was indicted in the District of Columbia for “terrorist acts against United States nationals and other foreign nationals.” The FBI says he was “the deputy or second in command for the foreign terrorist organization, the Abu Sayyaf.”
What’s new about this latest video is the consolidation of different groups saying they declare allegiance to ISIS. Post-produced to show photo insets of the different commanders, it shows Hapilon, aka Abdullah al-Filipini, the leader of the Basilan branch of the Abu Sayyaf. He’s joined by Abu Anas al-Muhajir, leader of the Ansar al-Shariah Battalion, Abu Harith al Filipini, a representative of the Ma’arakat al-Ansar Battalion in Sulu. Also in the group is Abu Sharifa, the leader of Ansar al-Khilafa, most recently the target of military operations last month.
This follows a December video released by another ISIS account of Filipino jihadists allegedly training in the southern Philippines.
That same training camp was featured in the middle of another video released on social media in November threatening the APEC summit. (READ: ISIS’ global ambitions and plans for Southeast Asia)
Government officials and military officers from the Philippines largely dismissed the training video and claims of allegiance since 2014, saying they were more aspirational than real.
“They’re not really ISIS,” said Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Colonel Restituto Padilla told reporters in December. “We view them as mere criminal gangs.”
“Karamihan po diyan kasi ay nakatuon sa pagbibigay ng simpatiya at saka pangingikil o paghingi ng ransom ‘yung kadalasan yung iba,” said Padilla. (Most of the videos are meant to offer sympathy to ISIS
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