ISIS officially recognises pledges of allegiance from militant groups in the Philippines

Isnilon Hapilon (centre) and other masked men declaring their support for ISIS in a video.
Isnilon Hapilon (centre) and other masked men declaring their support for ISIS in a video.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM YOUTUBE

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has officially recognised pledges of allegiance from several militant groups based in the Philippines, although it has yet to declare an official caliphate province for the Philippines or the wider South-east Asian region.

One of the southern Philippines groups recognised is that of Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, according to a report from the American-based the Long War Journal (LWJ).

The pledges were accepted in a video that was recently released by ISIS' Al Furat Media - a largely Russian-language media outlet, the report said.

The video shows that ISIS is officially recognising that several groups have pledged allegiance to it and its leader.

Additionally, other groups in the region, such as Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid and the Mujahidin Indonesia Timor, have also pledged their allegiance.

The report said it was possible that the militant group would announce such a province in the future, especially after the suicide attack in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta. The recognition of the pledges could pave the way for such an announcement.

The video features Hapilon and two other group leaders recording their pledge of allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The other key leaders included 37-year-old Malaysian bomb maker Mohd Najib Husen alias Abu Anas al Muhajir, who was identified as the emir (leader) of Katibat Ansar al Sharia and Abu Harith al Filipini, a delegate sent by the leader of Katibat Marakah al Ansar.

Included in the video was a brief combat footage and the last moments of Najib, who was killed in a fire fight with the Philippines military in Basilan on Dec 15 last year.

Najib, who was an electrical engineering graduate of Universiti Malaya and a stationary shop owner married with five children, was the right hand man of ISIS terrorist Mahmud Ahmad.

Mahmud, a 37-year-old former Universiti Malaya lecturer, fled with Najib and another Malaysian ISIS member Muhammad Joraimee Awang Raimme, 39, to the southern Philippines in April 2014 after a police crackdown on militants.

The Katibat Ansar al Sharia, Katibat Marakah al Ansar, and at least a portion of the Abu Sayyaf terror group are not the only groups in the Philippines which have pledged allegiance to the ISIS.

Another group, identified as Ansar al Khilafah in the Philippines, has also pledged allegiance to Baghdadi. Last August, the group first emerged by explicitly pledging allegiance to ISIS in a video released on YouTube.

In April, the group released another video to threaten the Filipino government and American soldiers in the Philippines.

According to the SITE Intelligence Group, a spokesman for Ansar al Khilafah threatened to deploy suicide bombers in the country and that the group would make the Philippines a "graveyard for American soldiers".

In December 2015, fighters alleging to be part of the "Soldiers of the Caliphate in the Philippines" released a short video showing a training camp somewhere in the Philippines.

The LWJ report said it was unclear which group was shown in the video, but it was likely a combined group of the fighters.

According to South-east Asian news site Benar News, Ansar Khilafah in the Philippines is led by one Abu Sharifah and based in South Cotabato and Sarangani provinces.

Additionally, the news site reports that the leader of Katibat Marakah al Ansar is led by one Abu Ammar, who was not present in the video.

It also reported that Abu Anas al Muhajir and several fighters shown in the video were from Malaysia, historical operating grounds for Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), which is considered Al-Qaeda's branch in the region.

JI also operates in the Philippines, but has suffered defections to ISIS.

Shortly after Baghdadi's announcement of the caliphate in 2014, Abu Bakar Bashir, the spiritual leader and co-founder of JI, as well as the emir of its offshoot Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid, pledged allegiance to Baghdadi.

However, Bashir's two sons and several other leaders left and formed their own group, Jemaah Ansharusy Syariah.

According to Jakarta Post, more than 50 per cent of Bashir's followers abandoned him and joined Jemaah Ansharusy Syariah. According to its leader, it is directly part of Al-Qaeda's global network now.

Traditionally, the Abu Sayyaf terror group has had ties to Al-Qaeda. In June 2014, a master Abu Sayyaf bomb maker, who was thought to have been killed in a drone strike in North Waziristan, Pakistan, turned up in the Philippines before being killed last year.

The operative, Abdul Basit Usman, was wanted by the US for his involvement in multiple bombings in the Philippines and also had ties to JI.

The Abu Sayyaf terror group was funded and financed by Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, one of Osama Laden's brother-in-laws, according to Khaddafy Janjalani, the leader of Abu Sayyaf, before he was killed in 2006.

Khalifa, an Al-Qaeda financier and facilitator, was killed by US special operations forces in Madagascar in 2006.

It is unclear how many fighters from Abu Sayyaf followed Hapilon in pledging allegiance to ISIS.

In hostage videos released last year by Abu Sayyaf, the group made no indication it was holding the hostages on behalf of ISIS nor were the videos distributed by official ISIS channels or media outlets.