MANILA • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte yesterday ordered the army to destroy the small but violent Abu Sayyaf group, saying the country otherwise risked being "contaminated" by ISIS.
The mostly Christian Philippines has for decades battled rebels from the Muslim minority, but while progress towards peace has been made with the main insurgent faction, Abu Sayyaf militants have remained ruthless enemies of the state.
"Destroy them, that's an order," Mr Duterte told soldiers at an army base in the province of Zamboanga del Sur on the violence-plagued southern Mindanao island.
He described the Abu Sayyaf as terrorists and bandits who kill civilians for no apparent reason, and ruled out negotiations.
Abu Sayyaf militants, notorious for extortion, kidnappings and bombings, this year beheaded two Canadians kidnapped from a tourist resort. They recently freed 18 Indonesians and Malaysian tugboat crew members after obtaining ransom.
In June, a video appeared online showing the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) accepting the allegiance of Abu Sayyaf fighters, in the first formal recognition of a South- east Asian group by the Middle East-based extremist group, counterterrorism officials said.
Action was necessary now, or the Philippines risked being "contaminated by the ISIS disease", Mr Duterte said. "I see a looming problem; in three to seven years from now, we will have a problem with ISIS," he said, promising the army modern equipment to fight Abu Sayyaf.
Mr Duterte, who has been touring army camps since taking office five weeks ago, said he planned to recruit 20,000 more soldiers to help protect the country's territorial integrity. "We want to control all areas and we don't want to lose any territory," he said, reiterating a close alliance with the United States in fighting Islamist militancy, and in the Philippine maritime dispute with China in the South China Sea.
The Abu Sayyaf militants are still holding several foreign hostages.