The leadership of the so-called Islamic State in Syria has contacted Abu Sayyaf terrorists instructing them to find a suitable area to found a caliphate in Mindinao.
The Philippines defence minister Delfin Lorenzana shared the intelligence with journalists on Thursday (January 26).
The announcement follows concerns raised by senior US military figures that as IS loses ground in the Middle East, it may look further afield for a safe haven. President Duterte has also warned of the prospect of IS “contaminating” his country if driven out of Iraq and Syria.
Mr Lorenzana said recently received intelligence indicated that a senior leader of Abu Sayyaf was looking to spread into new areas of the Philippines on the orders of IS.
He said: “Isnilon Hapilon left his traditional area of operation on Basilan island and went to Lanao del Sur to see the area and find out if it is conducive to the establishment of their wilayat (caliphate).” Lanao del Sur is a province on the main southern island of Mindanao, to the northeast of the much smaller Basilan island.
Lanao del Sur is a stronghold of a the Maute rebel group, which has also pledged allegiance to IS. Several of its members have been arrested for a bombing last year in which 14 people were killed.
Philippine forces on Thursday dropped bombs and fired shells at rebel positions in the mountains of Lanao del Sur in a bid to flush out Hapilon, Lorenzana said.
Abu Sayyaf, which operates in Sulu and Basilan islands, has kidnapped dozens of people over recent years and beheaded several, including two Canadians last year.
Until this new piece of intelligence, it hadn’t been confirmed whether Abu Sayyaf was genuinely linked with IS, or had just made the claim to raise their profile.
Mr Lorenzana said: “They were communicating before but not as much as what they are doing now when IS in the Middle East are having trouble retaining their areas.”
We recently reported how within just miles of the IS stronghold of Mosul, life is continuing much as normal as their forces retreat. (See our travel report, here.)
We have also reported how the terror group has begun to catch the attention of would-be jihadists across the world. In the UK, the trial of a supermarket worker accused of trying to join the group is ongoing. (See our reports here, here and here.)