Philippine militants pledge IS allegiance

Remote Mindanao has become increasingly lawless. Source: Wikimedia

There are increasing fears that Islamist groups in the southern Philippines have united to announce an alliance with the terror group Islamic State (IS).

The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and Abu Sayyaf were two of the biggest groups in the archipelago who recently announced they had signed up with IS.

“That period of the last quarter of 2013 and first quarter of 2014 – we have estimated that this was the period when several Philippine militant organisations like the Abu Sayyaf, the BIFF, the JIS embedded in Sulu and Zamboanga peninsula in central Mindanao started to prepare for the eventuality of taking their oath of allegiance,” said Rodolfo Mendoza of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research.

A video that emerged in November last year on Islamic State’s Al Furat Media, a largely Russian-language outlet, claimed to show four Philippine militant groups with an IS flag pledging an alliance with the fundamentalist organisation.

Other organisations in the region, such as Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid and the Mujahidin Indonesian Timor, have also pledged support.

Zulkifli bin Abdu l Hir, also known as Marwan, was an infamous member of Jemaah Islamiyah, the pan-Asian terror group. He was rumoured to be recruiting Filipino Muslims for IS before he was killed in a police raid in Zamboanga. A total of 44 special-forces soldiers died in the operation.

Last year saw several attacks by smaller rebel groups on Mindanao claiming to be committed in the name of IS.

An ex-mayor from Basilan, western Mindanao, who wanted to remain anonymous, said mosques and madrasas were recruiting militants. “They give guns, fee and money. The fee is 30,000 to 50,000 pesos [US$630 to US$1,050] per person.”

Manila has played down the role of IS in the country.

Maria Ressa, CEO of Rappler, said: “Isis is grafting onto the same extremist networks, which Jemaah Islamiyah had in the past. Jemaah Islamiyah actually used the Philippines not just as a theatre of operations but largely as a training ground and Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population, became the theatre of operations. We’re seeing the same thing being to take shape now.”

Mendoza said the groups still remained divided, meaning it was difficult for them to establish a caliphate in Southeast Asia.

The SITE Intelligence Group quoted a spokesman for Ansar al Khilafah threatening to “deploy suicide bombers” in the country saying the group would make the Philippines a “graveyard for American soldiers”.

In December, militants alleging to be part of the “Soldiers of the Caliphate in the Philippines” released footage showing a training camp somewhere in the Philippines. It is unclear which group was shown but it may have included representatives from several rebel organisations.