Isnilon Hapilon, a commander of Abu Sayyaf’s al-Harakat al-Islamiyah in Basilan, has been named by Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi, the caliph of the so-called Islamic State (IS), as the terror group’s “emir” in Southeast Asia.
Hapilon is now nominal leader of all jihadist groups in the region.
In a recent video, Abu Abdulrahman al-Filibini announced that Hapilon will command IS throughout the Philippines and neighbouring countries.
In the video, Abdulrahman called on all jihadist groups to join forces with Hapilon, who has an FBI bounty on his head for $5 million.
Abdulrahman has threatened to wage war against the Philippines’ incoming government, telling followers to not be swayed by “deceptive tactics” of Duterte. He also announced for his people to unite regardless of which tribe they belong to.
In the video, he and two Southeast Asian IS fighters are shown leading the beheading of three alleged spies. He also announced that the Philippines is an enemy of IS because Filipinos “worship the cross.”
An army spokesman dismissed the video as propaganda and said the people on the video can be identified and hunted down. He also noted that they suspect Abdulrahman is the organizer of the Khilafah Islamiyah Movement, a local jihadist group within the Philippines.
Terrorist experts say the video is of significant value and represents a serious threat to Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.
Malaysia’s police counter-terrorism unit expert, Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, said: “We are definitely expecting more attacks in the region,” referring to the island of Mindanao.
Though Mindanao has been suffering from heavy conflicts for decades, experts believe the Philippines is ill-equipped to handle anything IS can dish out. A separate faction of the Islamic State is also fighting throughout southern Philippines, creating yet another layer for the terrorist organisation.
Sources say that jihadist recruitments are ongoing inside the autonomous region of Muslim Mindanao.
Those recruitments are happening on Facebook, as well as the use of iCOM, a two way radio system. The group is said to prey on poor communities who they can easily sway.
Military officials claimed the information is false and mere propaganda.
Abu Sayyaf has previously bonded with al-Qaeda and Jama’ah Islamiyah terrorist networks. They are said to have pledged allegiance with IS in 2014, but the recent news of a powerful leader has many worried what is yet to come.
In all, four factions of IS exist throughout Mindanao, with many extending into the Visayas, they are:
- Khilafah Islamiyah Movement (KIM)
- Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF)
- Rajah Solaiman Movement (RSM)
- Ansarul Khilafah (Sarangani)